Keeping the lights on: 3 steps to protecting UK energy assets


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April 10, 2017


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Cyber and terror threats have made the protection of critical national infrastructure a top priority for the UK government. Angela Oberman of Honeywell Security & Fire offers her prescription for protecting UK power stations and other energy assets.

Critical infrastructure around the world is under pressure.

Reports of cyber and physical threats facing electricity substations, in particular, are becoming more common. In the UK, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) takes the lead in advising critical infrastructure companies on how to protect their assets, with a particular focus on cybersecurity.

But does this advice go far enough?

In the US, a recent update in regulation from the North American Reliability Corporation (NERC) has reiterated the importance of physical grid protection. The new regulations, announced last September, required updated physical security plans from certain US electric substations to ensure they effectively “deter, detect, delay, assess, communicate and respond” to physical threats.

The ambitious new set of federal security standards (called Critical Infrastructure Protection 014, or CIP 014) has been debated by the U.S industry for some time, but is now being rolled out nationwide. Substations had until the end of 2016 to get their plans approved, with the goal of ensuring all were prepared by 2017 to act quickly in the event of a physical attack.

NERC CIP 014 represents a step in the right direction towards a more-robust grid, and one that the UK’s critical infrastructure could stand to learn from. The power grid is a complex and sensitive network that lights our homes, fuels our mobile devices, and keeps our food fresh.

IFSEC International is launching Borders and Infrastructure for its 2017 edition. Find out more about this new “show within a show” dedicated to the protection of utilities and other critical national infrastructure, counter terror and border security

Not even the most isolated rural communities, let alone utility companies, could afford power outages in the event of an attack. While cybersecurity rightfully dominates the headlines, it’s still important for each substation, regardless of its importance to the network, to protect itself from physical threat.

The key is implementing a sustainable “early warning” system that can reduce risk, while maintaining compliance with UK regulation. This can be achieved with a three-pronged strategy that operators can manage through a single user interface.

Step one: Make the perimeter smart

For many substations, the first line of defense is still very basic. Just a simple chain-link fence and padlocks is not enough to adequately protect these sites. In reality, advanced sensors should be considered the bare minimum of a perimeter defense system.

By building a network of advanced sensors and radar equipment, coupled with video, substations not only keep unauthorized persons off the property, but are also notified before an incident occurs. Awareness of an approaching threat, even if its just minutes in advance, can give authorities the opportunity to react quickly and pre-empt any risk to the site.

The most successful security solution is one that can integrate a perimeter with video management and access control, using one central management system. This means the perimeter solution itself can combine visitor management, access control, video management and intrusion into one platform.

All of these parts should integrate to enable security staff monitoring the substation remotely to make quick, informed assessments of alarm conditions for the most accurate and efficient response possible.

Step two: Choose video analytics over fancy cameras

Although quality of image is important, just investing in the most expensive cameras available is not the answer for adequately protecting a substation. Today, the true benefit of video surveillance is in its intelligence and analytics capabilities.

Video should work seamlessly with the motion detection systems on a site to capture multiple images – offering different views, site navigation and event verification – which are then sent to the alarm receiving centre for assessment.

There, the first responder can confirm a threat, make a judgment and, in cooperation with physical security systems, select the appropriate next course of action in real-time, arming or locking areas as needed.

Smart video capabilities not only provide live detailed insight, but they deliver the proof necessary for alarm verifications and third party evaluations. The ability to assess alerts in real time reduces unwanted activations and allows staff to take action swiftly and remotely at a moment’s notice.

 Step Three: Better access control

Physical security has evolved to reach beyond simply securing a physical structure. Today, access control combines managing human activity and electronic alarms by requiring operators to regulate which specific individuals can enter specific areas during pre-determined times, as well as monitoring for unauthorised access to a site.

This is essential for substations undergoing maintenance, for example, where vendors may need to access to sensitive areas.

Establishing a comprehensive and effective access control system, which authorises who can go where with items such as key control and entry logging, can also help reporting run smoothly – and make sure the facility is protected from internal threats.

The time to comply is now

The utility industry is one of the most regulated industries in the world. Substations have a responsibility to be more secure than the links on a padlock chain, and many of them still need assistance and resources to get there.

For a security solution to be successful, every element – including the technology, logistics planning, implementation and life cycle planning – must be thoughtfully considered and managed. There’s no better time to power up as the regulations will only continue to tighten.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to talk about updating utility security plans now, to avoid being left in the dark in the future.

IFSEC International is launching Borders and Infrastructure for its 2017 edition. Find out more about this new “show within a show” dedicated to the protection of utilities and other critical national infrastructure, counter terror and border security

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