Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Smart Grid Security East and the Software Security Panel

Today I had the good fortune of being on a small panel, moderated by Matthew Carpenter, and with a representative of embedded software security provider Green Hills Software. We focused on grappling with how utilities and their suppliers are confronting application layer vulnerabilities not just in key systems, but across their entire application portfolios. Here's a summary of what I think are some of the interesting facts and other points we touched on:

  • Application (or software) security is one of the newest (i.e., least mature) security sub-domains in every sector, which means utilities are not substantially further behind in this domain than some of their similarly sized, non-electric utility peers
  • Large and very large utilities can have anywhere from several hundred to several thousand applications ... that they know of and track. A somewhat unsettling percentage of utilities don't know how many apps they really have. It's an often neglected form of asset management and some are working hard to figure this out. And some aren't.
  • These same utilities often have one-to-two hundred developers in their internal development teams, most who have not yet been introduced to secure development principles, and with SDLC's that fail to leverage current tools that can really help
  • Many utilities haven't yet formulated an application security policy, meaning, among other things: they haven't yet determined which types of software vulnerabilities add so much potential risk that they simply aren't allowed to exist in operational systems. Again, some are moving out with security policies that drive helpful behaviors in this area, but the majority (IMHO) aren't in motion yet
  • I was asked what my Big Blue company is doing to help in the app sec area, and responded that we're working on three levels: (1) providing app sec training, consulting, services and tools to utilities, (2) bringing the same to vendors who supply software and software-intensive system to utilities, and (3) adding secure development processes to the SDLCs of the products we market to utilities, including those that comprise the Solutions Architecture for Energy (SAFE) framework
One point I meant to mention but didn't is that in the spirit of walk-then-run, before trying to develop policies and procedures to harden the entire application portfolio, many of the utilities we've worked with to date start at the project level with AMI and / or Customer Portal implementations. With AMI, we've seen utilities run application security tests on both the internally developed as well as vendor supplied software with good results. So good, in fact, that some of the related meter vendors, seeing the results, have procured our tools for their own internal use in their SDLCs, which again benefits the utilities when they buy these new, more secure products. And ditto for customer portal projects.

As this was a Powerpoint-free zone by design, in today's session we were just guys talking. But I've been building a short slide deck called "Securing Your Smart Grid Customer Portal" and plan to make it available, via the blog, to attendees shortly after the conference concludes. I think (and hope) you will find it helpful.

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