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Building Resilient OT Environments: Safeguards for Electric Utilities

Building resilient cybersecurity safeguards for electric utilities: how Tenable can help

Recent cyberattacks on critical infrastructure demonstrate how hackers can take advantage of industrial control systems. Organizations that adopt the latest vulnerability management best practices will be best prepared to reduce risk and mitigate possible damage.

Recent reports of cyberattacks in the energy and power sector highlight how interconnected industrial control systems (ICS) are increasingly susceptible to malicious activities. Targeted and opportunistic attacks threaten to significantly disrupt or, even worse, shut down these essential services. Utilities relying on operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems to support their critical infrastructure must implement and/or enhance proactive cybersecurity protective measures, or risk remaining vulnerable to increasingly sophisticated security attacks and threats.

Evolving threat landscape in the power sector

The power sector operates under the looming shadow of an ever-evolving threat landscape, with implications to halt virtually every aspect of life for civilians and governments alike. Sophisticated malware and backdoor attacks on the power grid are becoming more prevalent in the era of widespread digital transformation, which has enabled electricity providers to improve energy production by as much as 10% and can save the power industry $80 billion per year (or 5% of total annual power generating costs).

With all of the positive results that come with digitization, cyber risk becomes a byproduct. One in 10 (10.7%) of all cyberattacks worldwide in 2022 targeted energy organizations, making it the fourth most attacked industry. In North America, 20% of all cyberattacks were in the energy sector, making it the most attacked Industry in the region in 2023. As electricity providers' profit centers progressively rely on digitization, managing cyber risk is imperative — and it’s easier said than done. Many electricity providers struggle to know exactly where the risk is because their environment is a mix of modern and legacy equipment. To mitigate the risk of a cyberattack disrupting their bulk electric systems (BES) / bulk power systems (BPS), energy companies need to prioritize cybersecurity alongside their digital transformation.

Cascading failure risks

Interconnected systems within utilities pose a profound risk of creating cascading cybersecurity incidents when attacked, leading to potentially severe security breaches and significant damage. The convergence of legacy systems with newer architectures creates a web of vulnerabilities within utility infrastructures susceptible to malware and cyberattacks. Even seemingly secure air-gapped networks, once breached, become conduits for infiltrating critical control systems. For instance, a breach in the administrative network could cascade into the operational network, potentially compromising control systems responsible for managing generation, transmission, and distribution, thus disrupting downstream service reliability.

The sprawling and intricate nature of these systems, coupled with their interdependencies, poses a formidable challenge for assessing and remediating vulnerabilities. Imagine a scenario where an attacker gains access to substation controllers: the potential repercussions extend far beyond local disruptions, potentially impacting regional or even national grids, thereby highlighting the importance of proactive approaches to security.

Safeguards for modern OT environments

Amidst these challenges, a proactive and comprehensive cybersecurity approach emerges as a fundamental requirement. Regular vulnerability assessments and continuous surveillance of ICS systems are essential tactics for the power sector. Security professionals must take a holistic approach to identify vulnerabilities and employ purpose-built software to defend against cyber incidents.

Power companies need a security solution that combines asset visibility, vulnerability management and threat detection to combat rising challenges. It is essential to maintain full visibility into all operational assets including intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), remote terminal units (RTUs), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), breakers, meters, drivers and other devices.

Tenable’s market-leading OT security solution is purposely designed to help power companies safeguard their critical infrastructure. With Tenable’s unmatched cybersecurity expertise, OT experience and customer support, energy companies can effectively protect their OT against escalating cyberthreats that jeopardize utility operations and reliability.

Enterprise integration to see more and do more

Tenable OT Security is designed to help enterprises maximize existing technology investments. Native integrations into the most broadly used enterprise applications enable users to manage their entire attack surface and leverage existing workflows through the user interface of their choice. Other OT security tools lock users into using their user interface to run reports and manage OT security, so you’re constantly switching between different screens. Tenable OT Security also integrates with other Tenable products, including Tenable Security Center, Tenable Vulnerability Management, Tenable Lumin and Tenable One, empowering users with a streamlined solution for all of their exposure management needs.

By gaining complete visibility into critical assets and strategically prioritizing vulnerability management, power companies can allocate resources effectively to fortify their cybersecurity posture. This proactive stance ensures the safe and resilient operation of their smart grids amidst the ever-evolving threat landscape, safeguarding essential services for communities and industries alike. For more information, and guidance on how to tackle the OT security challenge for energy utilities, check out the featured resources linked below.

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Your Tenable Vulnerability Management trial also includes Tenable Lumin and Tenable Web App Scanning.

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