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Utility cybersecurity plan questioned

Proposed standards are seen as too prescriptive and restrictive

By Thomas Hoffman
May 23, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - CHICAGO -- A set of cybersecurity standards proposed by the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) are too detailed in some instances, attendees at an industry conference here said last week.
Users at the Platts Cyber Security for Utilities conference said that if the proposal is adopted, it could lead to regional differences in interpretation and extra compliance work for information security managers at electric utilities.
NERC's proposed cybersecurity standards, known as CIP-002 through CIP-009, cover areas ranging from the security of critical cyberassets to personnel screening and training requirements.
Charles Noble, a member of the NERC drafting committee who is also the information security coordinator at ISO New England in Holyoke, Mass., said the biggest weakness of the proposal is that it's too prescriptive in certain areas, like records management, where it spells out the number of years that specific types of records must be maintained.
A key strength of the proposal is that it's being driven by utilities and not by the federal government, said James Sample, manager of information security services at California Independent System Operator Corp. in Folsom. With utility-driven standards, "we can control our own destiny," Sample said.
Enforceability Unclear
NERC's membership includes utilities and related organizations. Its mission is to ensure the reliability of bulk power generation in North America. As a volunteer organization, its standards aren't currently enforceable.
However, the energy bill that's currently being debated by the U.S. Senate includes a proposal to grant NERC regulatory authority. And even if NERC's proposed standards aren't eventually approved by its members, it's widely believed that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) or state regulatory authorities would step in to create and enforce more-rigid cybersecurity requirements.

If the standards aren't passed by two-thirds of NERC's members as required, "I wouldn't be surprised if FERC doesn't jump on it, make it a federal regulation and toughen up some of the language," said Scott McCoy, director of security at Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc.
To date, NERC members have voted on two drafts of the proposed standards. Earlier this month, the council posted the third draft, which members will be able to comment on for a 45-day period. In late July, the NERC drafting committee will post a final draft for a 30-day review before the next round of voting, said Larry Bugh, chairman of the NERC standard drafting team and manager of IT for the East Central Area Reliability Council, one of 10 regional NERC units.
One of the concerns that industry security managers have is that the current standard, known as UA 1200, is set to

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