Securing America’s Energy Grid

Posted to Anterix in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: AnteriX
Andrew Bordine's picture
VP- Energy Markets & Innovation Anterix

As the Vice President of Energy Markets and Innovation for Anterix, Andrew Bordine directs ongoing efforts to leverage wireless telecommunication networks to the benefit of utility providers...

  • Member since 2020
  • 4 items added with 12,259 views
  • Aug 24, 2020

This item is part of the LTE Networks & Utilities - Summer 2020 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

Envisioning a modern energy grid for a sustainable, secure and connected future

In July, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an advisory warning of cyber vulnerabilities in our Nation’s critical infrastructure, including our electric utilities.  They highlighted the willingness of foreign entities to launch malicious cyber activities by exploiting internet-accessible operational technology assets. The National Commission on Grid Resilience followed that advisory up with their own report identifying cyber threats to utilities. These warnings came in response to cyber threats – as well as some cyber activity – by U.S. adversaries against critical infrastructures. And it wasn’t the first time.

Two years ago, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security released a disturbing report that chronicled a series of Russian cyberattacks on several critical infrastructure points across the United States. One of the Kremlin’s key targets was the U.S. power grid.

A primary reason to target America’s energy grid is its necessity to our way of life and its vulnerability. The vulnerability stems in part from our increased use of technology, including the internet, as well as an aging infrastructure. This is true, to an extent, regarding the communications components of our electric grid.

For grid communications, many utilities rely on multiple, disjointed legacy networks utilizing narrow-band radio equipment that fails to meet utilities’ needs for capacity, coverage or security. Additionally, those networks that are broadband in nature often are connected to the public internet, and therefore vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Today, utilities find themselves with a rare – and limited – opportunity to accelerate their efforts to protect their networks while boosting security, resiliency and coverage. This spring, the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of a portion of the 900 MHz spectrum band for broadband use. Anterix, the majority spectrum holder in the band, believes the best use of this valuable spectrum is to build private LTE networks to provide utilities a secure, private, broadband connection for their mission-critical operations. With these private LTE networks, utilities can develop a truly modernized, secure, intelligent grid that meets today’s needs and can adapt and scale to meet the needs of tomorrow.

The architects of America’s energy infrastructure never could have anticipated (or even imagined) a day when our electric grid would have to support extensive video conferencing and telepresence technology, much less the necessity for maintaining business operations during a pandemic. As we all have realized during these past six months, loss of electricity, as well as loss of communications and broadband connectivity, can bring the country to a halt.

As utilities increasingly need to monitor and control devices on the grid extending all the way to the electricity consumer, they are focusing on wireless communications systems as the most economical and best-performing option to connect those devices. Sensors placed throughout the modern power grid collect data about grid conditions, and centralized industrial control systems analyze and act upon that data, sending commands to smart devices in the field to perform physical grid control tasks. As cyber attackers grow more sophisticated, utilities must continue to adapt to stay ahead of the threats.  

Flexibility is key to creating a grid infrastructure that can rapidly adapt to all of these changing conditions and make our power grid more secure from attack. By leveraging low-band spectrum, like the 900 MHz solution available from Anterix, to create private LTE wireless broadband networks, utilities have access to high-speed and low-latency network connections to support high-demand data-driven technologies cost effectively over their entire footprints. Once fully realized, the new networks will help automate processes, monitor environmental conditions, enable artificial intelligence and drive productivity, while at the same time ensure greater security and resiliency. Additionally, since these capable LTE Networks stay entirely within the control of the utility companies that create them, they remain well-positioned for future extensibility and adaptability.

A utility that deploys a private LTE network can have confidence that the network would improve the cybersecurity of the utility’s wireless data communications capabilities over that to be realized with a public broadband network or multiple narrowband networks. First, the LTE technology includes newer, more advanced security features, and with its vast global market of products and devices, the investment and enhancement of LTE security is poised to continue. Second, a utility can better protect its data travelling in a private network under its control than it can in a public network designed for consumer usage and attached to the public internet. Purpose-built and security-focused networks will be key network attributes for achieving optimum data protection. Ultimately, a utility managing a private LTE network has the option to be completely disconnected from the public internet, either permanently or temporarily. This provides protection from cyber attacks and enables the utility to thoroughly scrutinize all traffic moving between all of its systems and end points.

Big challenges must be met with big ideas. There is no longer time to delay full grid modernization. We must act now to secure America’s continued global leadership and maintain our competitive advantage while protecting our critical infrastructure from potential attacks.  

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Anterix enables next-generation communications platforms that support grid modernization and cybersecurity strategies. Our 900 MHz spectrum supports secure, reliable, cost effective, and customized LTE solutions.
Henry Craver's picture
Henry Craver on Sep 3, 2020

Thanks for the post, Andrew. Do you see the government eventually leading the way in our grid modernization, at least as it relates to security? It seems too important of a national security issue to place the onerous on individual utilities. 

Andrew Bordine's picture
Thank Andrew for the Post!
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