Why utilities need to pay attention to IoT security issues

Why utilities need to pay attention to IoT security issues
IoT security issues facing utilities have become more rampant, as power plants and other critical infrastructure facilities are subject to hacking and cyberattacks from time to time. Securing IoT devices at these facilities, then, has become quite important.
 
That was the point raised by Entrust Datacard in a recent whitepaper titled Securing the Internet of Things: Energy and Utilities.
 
The paper pointed out that to gain further productivity and efficiency, utilities are increasingly turning to connected devices under the IoT scheme. “As new technologies and innovative solutions enter the picture, companies are working to modernize existing power infrastructures and deliver secure, reliable and affordable energy to end consumers. One significant driver of this transformation is the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT-connected devices have the potential to not only deliver cost savings to energy and utility enterprises, but also provide more value-added services to consumers,” it said. Citing research by Research and Markets, the paper pointed out by 2020, the size of the IoT in the utilities market is predicted to reach nearly US$12 billion.
 
In the manufacturing context, connectivity and analysis of data generated by devices can be referred to collectively as the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT, which the paper said helps energy and utility companies rise to the occasion by ushering in new levels of connectivity, automation and interoperability.
 
Indeed, IIoT, or Industry 4.0, offers various benefits to manufacturers and factories, including those operated by utility companies. One area where IIoT can come in handy is predictive maintenance, whereby visuals or audios that suggest impending machine failure yet are too weak to be detected by humans could be picked up by advanced sensors, which then send alerts to the operator who can respond immediately.
 
“Increasingly, connected meters and sensors provide access to troves of operational data, which can be used to improve analytics, optimize operations and ultimately make utilities more flexible and efficient. For example, smart meters enable both companies and users to more accurately track energy consumption. These useful insights can help alleviate some of the stress on energy demand while also delivering increased financial benefits to energy and utility enterprises. In fact, the use of smart meters may save utility companies as much as $157 billion by 2035,” the whitepaper said.
 

Security issues

 
According to the whitepaper, while there are plenty of IoT-driven opportunities for the energy and utility sectors, reaping the benefits of industrial IoT (IIoT) requires prioritization of an important factor — security.
 
“As industrial control systems and other massive infrastructures look to integrate with IoT technologies, the security of connected devices and networks must remain top of mind. Otherwise, industrial attacks and breaches may have dire consequences,” it said, citing a recent incident as an example. “Just last year, hackers launched a cyberattack against Ukraine’s electric grid, causing blackouts across the country, disabling backup systems of power distributors and impacting more than 230,000 residents.”

According to the paper, amid increased risk and cyber threats against these facilities, establishing a connected and trusted infrastructure is crucial. “The deployment of trusted identities, secured by enterprise-grade encryption technologies, mitigates risk and ensures data integrity. More importantly, all of this can be done without interrupting performance or compromising existing systems,” it said.
 
In this regard, Entrust Datacard has a solution called ioTrust platform, with which enterprises can authenticate and authorize devices, applications and people across an IIoT ecosystem. “By realizing the value of digital assets via ioTrust, enterprises can use connected technologies to deliver unprecedented data security and control within operational environments,” the whitepaper said.


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