Emerging Security and Data Privacy Challenges for Utilities: Case Studies and Solutions

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Cybersecurity applications are rapidly becoming an integral part of the utility operations, managing and processing millions of events per second with microsecond latency without impacting the underlying grid, operations, or enterprise infrastructures. While there are major weaknesses in the distribution system, which are vulnerable to exploitation for which these applications serve, there are myriad new attack vectors being added every day. Yet, while utilities spend most of their cybersecurity resources building a virtual wall around grid assets, they overlook the source of the most common attack vector on the grid-the utility employee. Utilities are much more than the physical operation of the grid; utilities are also responsible for massive enterprise systems with financial information, customer data, and a growing network of digital operations under human control. Thus, security strategies must become more nuanced and complex, and should include privacy and other internal information technology controls.

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We reviewed 53 papers related to privacy-preserving metering in smart grid published in the last 9 years. Attribution is the main cause for privacy issues in smart metering. Hence, we categorized studies based on measurements’ type: attributable or not. Utility Providers (UPs) use power measurements for two reasons: billing and maintaining operations. (A) Billing always requires attributable measurements. There are two main research problems for billing. (A-1) using coarse-grained measurements, which have minimal privacy concerns. (A-2) using fine-grained measurements, which have high privacy concerns. (B) Operational metering requires fine-grained measurements to maintain UPs’ operations. There are two main research problems for operational metering. (B-1) Protect users’ privacy when submitting non-attributable fine-grained measurements. Users might be reluctant to submit this type of measurements due to privacy concerns. Hence, UPs might offer incentive for users to shape their power usage (i.e. Incentive-based demand response (IDR)) or provide the fine-grained measurement (i.e. rewarding schemes). We refer to IDR and rewarding schemes as incentive-based schemes (they are sub-problems of the operational metering problem). They lead to the second research problem that addresses (B-2) protecting attributable fine-grained measurements used for operational metering.
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