Top five cybersecurity issues in the power grid supply chain

September 2, 2021   By Lisa Iscrupe

Top five cybersecurity issues in the power grid supply chain

Do you have a role in power grid security? The answer is yes. 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently held a meeting to discuss the security of the power grid. The traditional power grid has struggled due to increasing demand. Evidence of this can be seen in the rolling blackouts in California to extensive outages during the Texas winter storm of 2021,

At the same time, renewable energy, including solar power and green energy, is on the uptick. Now, protecting the energy supply chain is more critical than ever before to maintain the everyday standard of living in the U.S. and save lives during catastrophic events. 

What does this have to do with you? 

The power grid supply chain may begin with a lump of coal, but it ends with us. We are the consumers in our homes and businesses who need the energy to power our daily lives. Cyberterrorists and hackers know that the power supply chain is an area of vulnerability. Interruptions in the power supply could leave millions of Americans without electricity. Electricity is vital for hospitals and residents who rely on powered medical devices. Power loss could also affect access to communication and safe shelter, including air conditioning and heat. 

What are emerging concerns with the U.S. power grid?

The recent workshop also included policymakers from the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). 

These groups talked through concerns such as:

  • Addressing cybersecurity gaps in the power grid supply chain from beginning to end.
  • Focusing on emerging technologies in the renewable energy space. 
  • Adding security into the front end of the power supply chain, instead of as a security patch afterthought. 
  • Being prepared for cybersecurity attacks and able to mitigate risk and recover quickly. 

Based on that one-day workshop, here are the top five power grid security issues. 

Five security issues in the American power grid

  1. Parts: The tangible elements that make up the power grid include batteries (including solar batteries), wiring, solar panels, and microchips that can be used to hack American companies. According to the NREL’s report on the conference, “Raw materials and component parts for solar panels and batteries are predominantly produced overseas.” However, industry insiders also raise concerns on whether stricter regulations on foreign-made parts could affect supply on the U.S. side. 
  2. Industry workers: Employees at energy corporations play a big part in learning and following internal security protocols. Whether security issues arise due to negligence or nefarious motives, the people working within the power industry are key to maintaining security. 
  3. Consumers: According to Statista, the average American has access to over 10 connected devices. However, how many of us are guilty of hitting ‘ignore’ on that latest software update? Gaps like these in the power supply chain can spell trouble down the road. 
  4. Security interface: The link between software and hardware is often bridged by third-party systems. In these instances, “it is often unclear who owns the security interface between those products.” CESER senior advisor Cheri Caddy called for a greater reliance on engineers to develop ways to beef up security in these gray areas. 
  5. Bulk-power system components: The bulk-power system refers to the vast structures that make up the national power grid. Parts of bulk-power systems, such as electrical transformers and turbine engines, are produced outside of the U.S., leading to concerns about vulnerabilities that could be built into the production of these components. 

What’s next?

The bottom line is that a reliable power grid cannot be taken for granted. These conversations about the energy grid supply chain are crucial because the health and safety of millions of Americans rely on a functioning power system. With so much at stake, many U.S. residents are recognizing the benefits of energy independence, such as getting solar panels for their homes

 

Lisa Iscrupe is a writer and editor who specializes in energy, the deregulated electricity market, and solar power. Her work has been referenced by CNN, The Daily MBA, The Media Bulletin, and other national sources. Find more of Lisa’s work at SaveOnEnergy.com. Follow her at @lisaiscrupe.

 

[metamorworks]/Shutterstock