How Utilities Can Recover from an Attack

Monday, March 7, 2016 @ 05:03 PM gHale


A power grid goes dark in a cyber attack, the question remains as to how quickly a utility can get the system back up.

The recent cyber attack on Ukraine’s power grid brings that issues to the forefront.

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There is no doubt decades of experience with hurricanes and other natural hazards has helped utilities hone their ability to restore power.

However, those were purely physical, natural disasters that ended, but how about sophisticated cyber adversaries could strike the grid in entirely different ways, by corrupting the integrity of utility control systems and disrupting other vital grid operations and components. One attack does not mean the assault is over.

The challenges for restoring power after such attacks could be very different.

In Sandy, power companies from as far away as California could send power restoration teams to the stricken region, safe in the knowledge their own utilities would escape the storm. A nationwide cyber attack will strip away that sense of safety and fray the mutual assistance system that lies at the heart of the U.S. power restoration system.

A new study by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, “Superstorm Sandy: Implications for Designing a Post-Cyber Attack Power Restoration System,” examines these novel challenges, and explores how utilities can ramp up the progress they are already making against cyber threats.

The study was conducted by Dr. Paul Stockton. Now a Senior Fellow at APL and Managing Director of Sonecon, LLC, Stockton was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs during Sandy, and helped lead the Department of Defense’s support for utility power restoration efforts during the Superstorm.

“Rather than build a separate restoration system for cyber attacks,” Stockton emphasizes, “electric utilities and their government partners should explore how they can leverage existing mutual assistance agreements and other mechanisms to meet the unprecedented challenges of the cyber era.”

Click here to read Stockton’s full report.