Smart Meter Security Certification Moves Forward

Thursday, November 4, 2010 @ 12:11 AM gHale

By Gregory Hale
Mike Oldak sees all the moves into the Smart Grid as positive steps forward, but security pitfalls loom.
“The Smart Grid will provide some new challenges and utilities are taking them seriously,” said Oldak, the vice president and general counsel at the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC), a global trade association for utility companies that own, manage, or provide critical telecommunications systems. “The problem is we are relying on third parties to treat data as private and secure.”
That ends up being a problem because as smart meter usage pushes forward in nearly all regions of the world, cyber security was never a thought when the first devices came out.
Just think about it, smart meters can be a security nightmare as the devices lack sufficient power to execute software that can watchdog the appliance, additionally they usually go in physically unsecure locations, according to a study entitled “Smart Meter Security” by Pike Research.
Utilities, systems integrators, device manufacturers, and standards bodies understand smart meters and their surrounding networks can suffer from an attack, and cyber security measures are necessary to protect the meters, according to the study.
One company is now attempting to take charge in the utility environment as it earned a security certification that should ensure a secure smart meter environment. The Sensus FlexNet 2.2 Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) communications system achieved the smart grid industry’s first Achilles security certification.
Achilles certification, first established in the industrial control industry, is a rigorous security and robustness testing program created three years ago by Wurldtech Security Technologies. Achilles certification provides a security benchmark for people, processes and technologies. The Achilles certification testing methodology is already adopted in mission critical industries including oil, nuclear energy and aerospace engineering.
The testing shows the FlexNet AMI system, comprised of ten components and all intercomponent communication, has a strong security architecture in addition to proving its overall resilience against intrusion or other security breaches. Components tested and certified include the Regional Network Interface (RNI) headend, Tower Gateway Basestation (TGB) relays, field tools, endpoints and the information streams between the software and hardware components.
The FlexNet network with on open standards and communicates via a primary use, FCC-licensed spectrum. During the six-month certification process, the technology underwent a battery of rigorous tests to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities.
The Achilles program has over 25 different products certified throughout the manufacturing automation sector. The smart grid sector is facing similar security issues as smart meters face a daunting challenge. Each meter must be able to reliably and securely communicate all information collected to a central location.
“Many parallels can be drawn between the evolution of cyber security in the industrial control domain and the emerging smart grid space such as rollouts preceding standards, and regulatory uncertainties among other things,” said Dr. Nate Kube, co-founder and chief technology officer of Vancouver, BC, Canada-based Wurldtech. “Leveraging proven value-add programs such as Achilles Certification allows the AMI industry to build off the solid foundation of lessons learnt over many years of securing ICS.”
It all comes down to ensuring a secure smart meter environment.
“Utilities are looking for devices to be secure,” Oldak said. “They want security built in from the beginning instead of adding it in later on.”
“Our utility customers recognize that independently verified and repeatable assurances of security are critical for defining a reliable standard of security for the entire Smart Grid industry,” said Peter Mainz, president and chief executive of Raleigh, NC-based Sensus, a solutions provider for intelligent use and conservation of critical energy and water resources.
“The Achilles certification is internationally respected as the standard for security in industrial applications, and for Sensus to be the first certified AMI vendor in the Smart Grid ecosystem,” said Tyler Williams, co-founder and president of Wurldtech Security Technologies. “By embracing the challenge of applying this rigorous testing process to the FlexNet system, Sensus is defining a new standard for smart grid security.”
Is this the beginning of certification for the utility industry? Only time will tell, but as utilities, systems integrators, device manufacturers, and standards bodies know, they can suffer an attack at any time and they need protection fast.

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