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Substation Hardening: Don’t Be a Pawn to Security

October 28, 2014

Protecting our critical energy infrastructure from physical security threats is certainly not a game, but the process can take some important lessons from the game of chess. Like chess, hardening a substation against attack requires strategic thinking, evaluating positions and taking actions that lead to long term advantages and success.

I recently published an article on this topic in the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) Journal.

“Substation Security: Physical Hardening,”draws some correlations to the game of chess and emphasizes the need for broad spectrum technology solutions, an integrated team and constant strategy evaluation.

There is no question that technology is a significant part of strengthening security around vulnerable utility assets. A combination of video analytics, dual-authenticated access control, surprise lighting, and perimeter detection should be implemented. Physical substation security can also be improved through the use of audio signature analysis, a physically hardened perimeter, and employee/community awareness.

Technology alone can usually be breached. Physical barriers can also be easily compromised. However, integrated solutions that take advantage of the strengths of technology, physical hardening, and effective process change can present a viable deterrent. Setting aside one dimensional thinking and deploying a multi-dimensional chess-like approach can give the utility a much needed advantage. The following are a few examples from my article:

Defense in depth. Just as a chess piece that is positioned offensively may be protected by a knight and then by the queen, substations also require many layers of security, creating a deterrent that helps keep would-be intruders at bay for fear of capture or discovery.

Sacrifice. Often in the game of chess it is wise to sacrifice a piece if the move will achieve an advantageous position later. Positioning and sacrificing inexpensive and less important assets that can draw out and ultimately help capture the substation attacker is a move to be considered.

Decoy. A chess master will make his opponent second guess the outcome of a play or attack. The same can be done in the substation environment by strategically placing decoys that look just like the fully protected site giving attackers pause and possibly causing them to move on to a less “protected” facility.

Probing of defenses. An example of physical probing may be moving certain objects or striking certain objects that would generate a response thereby indicating a secure perimeter. The utility must develop the ability to quickly respond to these probes and continuously evaluate the overall utility’s security exposure.

Practice and patience. Chess is a game that requires deep thinking. Substation hardening is a problem that requires much patience, careful planning, a willingness to allocate sufficient funds, and a broad cross-functional support team.

It is important that whatever strategy or method that is chosen to implement substation security, a utility must undertake a comprehensive approach. This includes a continuous review of principles, scenarios, strategies, and solutions so it can remain flexible in combating the ever changing threats facing its critical infrastructure.

For more information, please download my UTC Journal article, “Substation Security: Physical Hardening.”

What are your substation security challenges? Please share your questions and best practices in the comments section below.

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