Cyber security is strategic for energy

Published on Friday, 11 April 2014

Technology has become part of our daily lives. One need only consider how many of our usual activities now rely  on services and solutions offered by ICT, which have brought countless benefits but also risks. The debate on privacy of data when buying online or when using social networks just shows how important the so-called cyber security is in our daily life.

The energy sector is also invaded by technology applied at power plants and on the networks, which can currently rely on electronic and digital monitoring and management techniques. Together with remarkable benefits in terms of plant efficiency, performance and maintenance, as well as of cost reduction and preparedness, IT solutions have nevertheless also brought vulnerability and problems that are typical of technological products. If people are willing to wait a few minutes when using their credit cards in order to have greater privacy regarding their personal information, in the case of a power plant or a distribution network a few more minutes can produce black outs, the suspension of activities, economic damages.  In order to have an idea of the consequences, the US Defense Department estimated that the losses produced to the United States from IT-related critical events in electricity distribution amounted to $ 180billion.

Cyber security is strategic for the energy sector. Technology is bringing about a smart evolution of the electricity grid, the spread of distributed generation, of renewables and of remote control, the application of efficiency and saving solutions that regard both plants and single consumers. As  Daniela Pestonesi  of Enel Research in Pisa emphasised in an interview with Enel Radio, “the Group has been facing these issues for years, it has been among the first utilities to implement security measures for its assets and is now a global benchmark”.

The old saying “prevention is better than cure” is a necessity for the energy supply chain. Enel has “a strategic research programme on these matters -  Pestonesi explained – with a cyber security laboratory where the operations of thermal power plants and the remote management systems of renewable facilities are replicated, and there's even a small micro grid with all the assets involved ”.  The vulnerability and problems connected with ICT services are analysed as regards the single component, the system and the entire network and data communication. The laboratory “allows us to perform realistic tests, assessing the impact of critical events, defining the necessary counter measures and the best ways to manage, monitor and control the network before problems arise”.