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Green push presents cybersecurity problems of its own

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 5/17/2021 Josh Siegel
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The shift to cleaner energy forebodes greater cybersecurity challenges as the economy adds new technologies and relies increasingly on electricity to fuel vehicles and heat homes.

The cyberattack that forced the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline exposed vulnerabilities of existing oil and gas infrastructure. But there are also risks of transitioning from a bulk fossil-fuel dependent system to one that’s decentralized with additional points of contact.

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“Cyberattacks are the war of the future, and unfortunately, the energy economy will not be spared that,” said Cynthia Quarterman, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and a former administrator of the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “The more that we are interconnected, the more vulnerability we have with respect to cyberthreats.”

Manny Cancel of the North American Electric Reliability Council said policymakers, regulators, and industry must address the potential hazards from a shift to cleaner energy accompanied by an expansion of connected devices and digitized technologies, such as smart thermostats and rooftop solar panels.

“Going to a more green and distributed energy future is a tremendous opportunity with lots of benefits,” said Cancel, who is senior vice president and chief executive officer of NERC’s Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center. “It shouldn’t be at the expense to security because, essentially, you are expanding the vector, the number of entry points and targets for adversaries to exploit.”

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, during a press briefing this week to address gasoline shortages, remarked that “if you drive an electric car, this would not be affecting you, clearly.”

While the attack on the Colonial Pipeline, responsible for 45% of fuel to the East Coast, had a devastating effect, President Joe Biden’s goals of electrifying vehicles, buildings, and homes, which would expand how much power the economy uses, means a hack of the grid could cause far-ranging damage.

“The danger of electrifying everything is the unbelievable spread of electricity to every aspect of daily life means the consequences of losing electricity becomes overwhelming,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University Fletcher School and author of the new book Energy's Digital Future.

Electric cars can both make the grid more resilient and vulnerable, experts say. Energy stored in the battery of an electric car plugged into a charging station during off-peak hours can be fed back into the grid.

However, electric vehicles are controlled by software, providing another target point for hackers.

“To suggest EVs are the panacea to the cyber concerns of pipelines is simply wrong. The two are disconnected,” said Dan Brouillette, former energy secretary in the Trump administration.

But Biden’s push to clean and electrify the nation’s energy also has the opportunity to make the nation’s infrastructure better able to withstand cyberattacks.

“My American Jobs Plan includes transformative investments in modernizing and in securing our critical infrastructure,” Biden said Thursday of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure and clean energy plan.

Administration officials this week said they are interested in requiring recipients of grants authorized by infrastructure legislation to implement cybersecurity protections as they build wind and solar farms, electric transmission lines, and electric vehicle charging stations.

Cancel said building in cybersecurity protections to infrastructure is expensive, and government funding to support that could speed deployment of new technologies.

“Anything the government does to stimulate innovation in this area is absolutely welcome and very positive in terms of moving us in the right direction,” Cancel said. “How do you secure distributed energy assets? There is a market to take advantage of.”

Biden’s plan also contains subsidies and regulatory reforms to build new transmission lines to carry renewable power, which can bolster resilience, experts say. Those extra lines can allow regions during emergency events to pull in power from places that aren’t affected.

There are also advantages of adding diversity to the grid through cleaner fuels and new technologies.

“Diversity of supply is always going to help with your resiliency,” Quarterman said.

Distributed energy sources that can generate clean electricity on-site and are disconnected from the centralized grid, such as solar panels attached to battery storage, can provide backup during an outage.

Small, free-standing microgrids can be installed to power a single site or small group of structures that share a common owner, such as a hospital or school system.

“Defending 5,500 miles of a pipeline like Colonial is a lot harder to do than defending a mini-grid powering a data center by Google because the surface area is so much larger,” Jaffe said.

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Leo Simonovich, head of industrial cybersecurity at Siemens Energy, said a potential cyberattack could be easier to withstand if there are more connections within the energy system. Colonial, he noted, was forced to shut down operations despite the fact the cyberattack hit the company's computer systems, not the pipeline itself.

“Connectivity enables us to get visibility and be more surgical in understanding what threats exist in our environment,” Simonvich said. “In the perfect world, you could isolate and contain a portion of the problem and not shut everything down.”

Tags: News, Energy and Environment, Colonial Pipeline, Electric Vehicles, Jennifer Granholm, Cybersecurity, Infrastructure

Original Author: Josh Siegel

Original Location: Green push presents cybersecurity problems of its own

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