Advancements in electricity grid technology have opened the door to devastating smart grid cyberattacks, the head of Europe’s leading cybersecurity non-profit has warned.
Speaking to Verdict’s sister title Power Technology, Anjos Nijk, managing director of the European Network for Cyber Security (ENCS), said that such attacks could cause blackouts so vast they cover multiple countries, and the energy industry currently lacks the skills to cope.
“Ten years ago the energy grid was still a fully stand-alone system. Now, it gets more connected by the day,” he said. “Non-secure systems are added and existing non-secure systems get more exposure into an increasingly complex architecture of the overall grid system.
“With the current speed of digitisation of the grid systems, which is needed to facilitate the energy transition, and the speed of connecting new systems and technologies to the grids, such as smart metering, electrical vehicle charging and IoT [Internet of Things], grid systems become vulnerable and the ‘attack surface’ expands rapidly.”
Nijk said that cyberattacks on smart grids, which are currently being deployed in many countries, could trigger what is known as “cascading”.
“This means that if a large system is damaged, other systems will be infected as well,” he said.
“This then may lead to a big-scale blackout – even beyond country borders – as the entire grid system is connected. Even other critical infrastructure such as transport and healthcare can be affected, as they all rely on energy supply.”
In this sense a large-scale attack on a smart grid could have far more severe implications than even some of the most severe cyberattacks to date.
“If the bank is hacked, you lose money: if the energy grid is hacked, you may lose lives.”
Of most concern is that the energy industry is simply not equipped to deal with the problem.
Nijk said that operators require specific skills to main security and prevent smart grid cyberattacks that were not needed to run traditional grid systems. As a result, the industry simply does not have these skillsets at the scale and level needed and is struggling to attract enough talent to meet its shortfall.
“Another main issue is the need for, and lack of, the knowledge and skillsets that grid operators require,” he said.
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