Distribution utilities are adept at recovering from adverse weather or asset failure but remain vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks, according to an Accenture report.

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of utility executives believe their country faces at least a moderate risk of electricity supply interruption from a cyberattack on electric distribution grids in the next five years.

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The report, Outsmarting Grid Security Threats, surveyed more than 100 utilities executives from over 20 countries and revealed interruptions to the power supply from cyberattacks is the most serious concern, cited by 57 per cent of respondents.

53 per cent cite employee and/or customer safety and 43 per cent of executives cite the destruction of physical assets as their biggest concerns.

“As highly sophisticated, weaponised malware is being developed, a greater risk to distribution businesses arises from cyber criminals and others who would use it for malicious purposes,” said Stephanie Jamison, managing director, Accenture Transmission and Distribution.

“Attacks on industrial control systems could disrupt grid reliability and the safety and well-being of employees and the public. Not getting it right could be a brand killer, as well as a real threat for a country and the community.”

While the increased connectivity of industrial control systems enabled by the smart grid will drive significant benefits in the form of safety, productivity, improved quality of service and operational efficiency, 88 per cent agreed that cybersecurity is a major concern in smart grid deployment.

Distribution utilities are also increasingly exposed by the growth of connected Internet of Things (IoT) domestic devices, such as connected home hubs and smart appliances. These bring a new risk to distribution companies, which is hard to quantify, with 77 per cent of utilities executives suggesting IoT as a potential threat to cybersecurity.

In Asia Pacific and Europe, cyber criminals are seen as the biggest risk for distribution businesses by almost a third of respondents. However, in North America, attacks by governments are considered a bigger risk than in regions worldwide (32 per cent).

“Deployment of the smart grid could open new attack vectors if cybersecurity is not a core component of the design,” Jamison said.

“However, the smart grid can also bring sophisticated protection to assets that were previously vulnerable through improved situational awareness and control of the grid.”

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