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Discover how SCADA can enhance cybersecurity

In recent years, Australia has witnessed a significant shift towards renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Whilst this transition promises a cleaner and more sustainable future, the large-scale addition of renewable energy interconnected technologies presents a new cybersecurity challenge to maintain energy resilience and reliability. As the industry becomes increasingly reliant on integrated digital technologies, safeguarding critical infrastructure from cyber threats becomes paramount.

“The global energy sector and Australia in particular has undergone an unprecedented transformation over the last decade, with continuously evolving and emerging interconnected technologies” – Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)

In this article, we delve into the significance of cybersecurity in the Australian renewable energy sector and explore how Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems play an essential role in ensuring the determined Security Profile (SP1/2/3) is achieved for the application in accordance to the Australia Energy Sector Cyber Security Framework (AESCSF).

The Growing Importance of Cybersecurity in Renewable Energy

Australia’s renewable energy sector has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, with renewable sources accounting for a significant portion of the nation’s electricity generation. However, alongside this growth comes the increased risk of cyber threats targeting critical energy infrastructure. These threats range from ransomware attacks and data breaches to potential disruptions in energy supply, which can have severe economic and societal consequences.

Only 35% said their (energy) organisation is well-positioned to take on the threats of tomorrow, compared to 48% of all other industries – EY Global Survey

What is the Australia Energy Sector Cyber Security Framework?

The Australia Energy Sector Cyber Security Framework (AESCSF) provides energy participants with a comprehensive framework to assess, evaluate, prioritise, and improve cybersecurity capability and maturity. The framework, developed in collaboration with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Centre (CISC), and energy sector representatives, provides a set of security practices for organisations.

Framework Structure

SCADA systems incorporate security measures to protect against cyber threats, ensuring the integrity and reliability of renewable energy operations. SCADA systems are critical to the safety and dependability of renewable energy plants. SCADA systems facilitate compliance with regulatory requirements by continuously monitoring and recording relevant data. This aids in reporting to regulatory bodies including AEMO and AEMC, and ensures that the renewable energy facilities comply with industry standards and environmental regulations.

The AESCSF allows an organisation to assess itself against eleven (11) different domains:

  1. Risk Management (RM)
  2. Cyber Program Management (CPM)
  3. Asset, Change, and Configuration Management (ACM)
  4. Identify and Access Management (IAM)
  5. Information Sharing and Communication (ISC)
  6. Threat and Vulnerability Management (TVM)
  7. Situational Awareness (SA)
  8. Event and Incident Response, Continuity of Operations (IR)
  9. Supply Chain and External Dependencies Management (EDM)
  10. Workforce Management (WM)
  11. Australian Privacy Management (APM)

Each domain includes one or more objectives, which contain multiple practices, and where applicable anti-patterns. An organisation is required to rank against each domain for maturity indicator level (MIL) 1-3 and Security Profile (SP) 1-3.

The Role of SCADA

SCADA systems play a crucial role in the renewable energy sector by enabling operators to monitor and control various processes remotely. These Operational Technology (OT) systems gather real-time data from sensors and devices, allowing for efficient management and control of renewable energy generation and distribution. However, their criticality and interconnected nature also makes them vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

As a result, SCADA plays a vital role in achieving the target SP of the AESCSF within renewable energy environments. Common practices should include:

Risk Assessment

Establishing, maintaining, and monitoring a risk assessment enables an organisation to mitigate cybersecurity risks relevant to their environment.

Network Segmentation

Implementing network segmentation ensures that critical assets and systems are isolated from less secure networks. This helps contain potential cyber threats and prevents them from spreading across the infrastructure.

Access Control

Access control mechanisms appropriate to the environment should be in place to limit unauthorised access to SCADA systems and sensitive data. This includes implementing strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication, and regularly reviewing user privileges.

Manage Changes

A change management process for both hardware and software is essential to ensure any changes are implemented in a considered, visible, and controlled manner to aid in mitigating any adverse effects.

Continuous Monitoring

Continuous monitoring aims to reduce response time by detecting threats in real-time. Obtaining an up-to-date view of systems is crucial to ensure any vulnerabilities or anomalies are mitigated quickly and precisely.

Regular Updates and Patch Management

Keeping SCADA systems and associated software up to date with the latest security patches is essential for mitigating known vulnerabilities. Regularly scheduled maintenance and patch management procedures should be followed to minimize the risk of exploitation by cyber attackers.

Incident Response Planning

Developing comprehensive incident response plans ensures that renewable energy operators are prepared to handle cyber incidents effectively. This includes establishing communication protocols, defining roles and responsibilities, and conducting regular training exercises to test response capabilities.

As Australia’s renewable energy sector continues to expand, so too does the need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect critical infrastructure from cyber threats. EPEC specialise in SCADA systems and cybersecurity for renewables. Our SCADA services strictly align with the AESCSF, bolstering the energy sector’s capacity to uphold a secure and reliable energy supply.

Contact Neville Silvester via email neville.silvester@epecgroup.com.au today for more information. 

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