Protecting the Australian grid against cyber attacks
Australia is constantly moving towards the development of smart grids with a key focus on ensuring reliability, efficiency, and sustainability. Ever-increasing electricity demand, energy security, de-carbonization, renewable energy integration, climate change events, integration of AI and IoT devices, and technological innovations are accelerating this transition towards smart grids. This development of digital technologies, smart grids, microgrids, and internet connectivity is expanding the impact and scale of cyber security threats for power networks in Australia. Australia’s energy markets and power sector has been targeted by cyber security attacks in the past and the Australian government is actively gearing up to address this challenge by developing regulations and policies, collaborating with industry players, and creating public awareness about cybersecurity solutions.
On 27th Nov 2021, Queensland energy company, CS Energy suffered cybersecurity on its ICT network, which includes the systems used by state power grid operator, Powerlink Queensland. Although this attack did not cause any disruption in the power network, this shows the potential cybersecurity threat to the Australian power grid. This is just one example of a cybersecurity attack on the power network of one of the most prominent states in Australia. It will depend on Australia’s capability to face such cybersecurity crimes head-on and protect confidential consumer databases, and government information and defend the grid against such threats.
Australian Government is focusing on following three key dimensions to strengthen its capabilities against such espionage attempts on the power grid.
Developing cybersecurity awareness in public:
The Australian government is committed to raising awareness in the public about cybersecurity threats. Stay Smart Online is a government website providing guidelines to Australians about securing smart devices at homes & businesses, avoiding scams and phishing, and protecting themselves against online cybercrimes. Cybersecurity awareness week is an annual event which is dedicated to promoting online safe practices and providing security tips to the public to protect against the latest cybersecurity challenges. This event is organized by Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), in collaboration with a range of government, industry, and community partners. The event generally takes place in October every year. This event contains seminars, workshops, and interactions with experts and industry partners in the domain of cybersecurity.
Collaboration with international partners:
Australia is a member of The Five Eyes alliance, which is a partnership between the intelligence agencies of 5 most advanced nations in the world i.e., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the U.S. This alliance focuses on sharing intelligence, collaborating, and mitigating cybersecurity challenges across the globe, especially in the member nations. The Australia-US Cyber Security Dialogue is another initiative by the Australian government to strengthen collaboration between U.S. and Australia on cybersecurity challenges.
Strengthening legislation for cybersecurity of critical grid infrastructure:
Following are some of the key legislations that are contributing to strengthening the cybersecurity measures in Australia:
a. The Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 establishes the framework for managing security risks to critical infrastructure, such as the power grid.
b. Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Act 2018 created the ASD as an independent agency within the Department of Defense, which is responsible for providing cybersecurity advice to government agencies and critical infrastructure.
c. The Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 facilitated the establishment of a framework for managing security risks to critical infrastructure.
Major OEMs, Companies & Startups contributing to strengthening Cybersecurity Solutions in Australia:
Cybersecurity poses an immense challenge for the power grid that leads to business opportunities for several companies and startups. Following are some of the companies that are contributing to building up defense against cybercrimes in Australia.
Ampcontrol has been providing cybersecurity solutions for the Australian power grid and energy sector. It specializes in risk assessments, penetration testing, vulnerability management, and incident response. Ampcontrol provided a cybersecurity solutions for a Queensland utility company which included an Industrial Control System (ICS) cybersecurity assessment, vulnerability assessment, and risk mitigation plan to protect the utility’s grid infrastructure. The company also provided a cybersecurity solutions for a New South Wales utility company focused on ICS cybersecurity assessment, penetration testing, and a security awareness program for the security of the utility’s grid infrastructure. Ampcontrol conducted a smart grid security assessment for a Western Australian utility company which included a review of the utility’s security policies, procedures, and technical controls, as well as threat analysis and vulnerability assessment.
ThreatQuotient, a cybersecurity company, delivers advanced threat intelligence solutions to aid organizations in comprehending and countering cyber threats effectively. The company has proactively initiated efforts to enhance awareness and foster collaboration with state agencies and industry partners. Notably, in 2020, ThreatQuotient joined forces with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), facilitating the provision of complimentary cybersecurity threat intelligence to Australian businesses and critical infrastructure, including power networks. Threat Intelligence Platform is another initiative which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate threat intelligence management and enable organizations to respond effectively to cyber-attacks.
Securing Australia’s Power Grid: Cybersecurity Solutions Partnerships and Innovations:
Through strategic partnerships with local utilities and government agencies, Siemens has taken a proactive role in fortifying the Australian electric power grid. Contributing significantly to the nation’s cybersecurity efforts, Siemens engages in cybersecurity consulting, provides industrial cybersecurity solutions, delivers training and education, and invests substantially in research and development. Noteworthy instances include furnishing cybersecurity solutions to Victorian utility company AusNet Services and Western Australian utility Western Power. These solutions incorporate vital components such as an Intrusion Detection System (IDS), Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), and Security Operations Center (SOC) services, collectively aimed at identifying and addressing cybersecurity threats. Siemens also maintains an active position within the Energy Networks Australia (ENA) Cyber Security Industry Advisory Group, a body dedicated to shaping cybersecurity standards within the energy sector.
Cisco has been working with Australian power utilities to provide cybersecurity solutions to secure their power grids. Collaborating with government agencies in Australia like the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), there is active engagement in place. Cisco partnered with Western Power, a Western Australian utility company, for the deployment of its cybersecurity solutions, such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and security analytics, to protect grid infrastructure from cybersecurity attacks. Conducting a smart grid security assessment for Powercor, a Victorian utility company, also aimed at identifying potential cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities. Cisco provided a cybersecurity solutions for SA Power Networks, a South Australian utility company, which includes an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), web security, and email security to protect SA Power Networks’ network from cyber threats.
Other key players collaborating with the Australian government include CyberX, FireEye, Darktrace, and Dragos. These firms are dedicated to safeguarding Australia’s power grid, countering cyber threats, and ensuring the grid’s safety, reliability, and sustainability.
As Australia’s power grid undergoes transition towards a smarter grid, the evolution poses a critical challenge. However, cybersecurity becomes crucial in this context. To address this issue, the Australian government has implemented comprehensive measures to mitigate the risks and impacts of cybersecurity threats.This includes efforts across legal, technological, and educational fronts, with a focus on collaboration to enhance cybersecurity capabilities. In response to the emerging market for cybersecurity in Australia, various OEMs, companies, and startups are offering cybersecurity solutions and consulting services to protect against cyber threats and ensure the security and reliability of the Australian electric power grid. By taking proactive steps to combat cybersecurity threats, Australia is not only positioning itself as a leader in securing critical infrastructure in the energy sector, but it is also setting a precedent for other nations to follow.