Electrical Power & Protection


Boosting cybersecurity in substation automation systems

April 2024 Electrical Power & Protection

A significant surge in distributed energy resources (DERs) and energy storage systems, along with the upward trend in unmanned substations, have made power grids a lot more complex. So far, DERs are having the biggest impact on power grids because of their intermittent energy production. At times, they generate too much power; at other times, their output is too low. These fluctuations make the grid unreliable.

For this reason, engineers in substation control centres find it increasingly difficult to manage the dispatch of power in real time. To address these instabilities in power grids, digital substations increasingly play an important role in power transmission. These provide stability and flexibility regarding power supply. However, converting all substations to digital at once is not so straightforward because of the budget required to retrofit the large number of serial-based legacy devices.

Communication gateways can help overcome these concerns as they help serial-based intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) communicate with Ethernet-based networks. They are also a cost-effective solution compared to computing platforms. With the serial-to-Ethernet problem solved, however, another issue raises its head: cyberattacks always pose enormous threats to networks, putting cybersecurity in retrofit power substations at the forefront.

Cybersecurity for substation automation systems

Substation protection and control systems manage critical power operations through communication protocols. In substation retrofitting projects, communication gateways act as data concentrators, managing the large numbers of legacy IEDs. Despite their significantly important role, communication gateways rarely incorporate adequate security measures. Therefore, a high risk exists that malicious attackers can easily access legacy IEDs through these gateways to cause system downtime, power outages and damage to critical equipment, resulting in huge financial losses. Even worse, people’s lives can also be in danger.

The IEC 62443 standard has become one of the most popular cybersecurity standards for industrial automation and control systems. For specified critical power automation systems, also consider a specified power standard such as IEC 62351. When incorporating the acknowledged technologies of both standards, it is essential for operators to consider methods that can protect their critical data and track their network security status.

For more information contact RJ Connect, +27 11 781 0777, [email protected], www.rjconnect.co.za


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