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NIST Finalizes Initial Set of Smart Grid Cyber Security Guidelines

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued today its first Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security, which includes high-level security requirements, a framework for assessing risks, an evaluation of privacy issues at personal residences, and additional information for businesses and organizations to use as they craft strategies to protect the modernizing power grid from attacks, malicious code, cascading errors, and other threats.

The product of two formal public reviews and the focus of numerous workshops and teleconferences over the past 17 months, the three-volume set of guidelines is intended to facilitate organization-specific Smart Grid cyber security strategies focused on prevention, detection, response and recovery.

"As we modernize the nation's electric infrastructure to make it smarter, more efficient, and more capable, we need to make it more secure from end to end," U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. "These new cyber security guidelines will help government and industry meet this important responsibility."

"The development of common Smart Grid standards is a national priority, and these cyber security guidelines are an important step toward that goal," said U.S Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "If we are to truly modernize our electrical grid, we must have electricity producers, distributors and consumers all speaking the same language and all working together to make our grid more secure. Cyber security is an integral part of the grid."

The new report was prepared by the Cyber Security Working Group (CSWG) of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel, a public-private partnership launched by NIST with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding from the Department of Energy. The guidelines are the second major output of NIST-coordinated efforts to identify and develop standards needed to convert the nation's aging electric grid into an advanced, digital infrastructure with two-way capabilities for communicating information, controlling equipment and distributing energy.

Produced by the 450-member working group, with participants from academia and both the public and private sectors, the new guidelines elaborate on the cyber security overview in the group's first major output, the January 2010 NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0. They provide the technical background and details that can inform organizations' efforts to securely implement Smart Grid technologies.

"These advisory guidelines are a starting point for the sustained national effort that will be required to build a safe, secure and reliable Smart Grid," said George Arnold, NIST's national coordinator for Smart Grid interoperability. "They provide a technical foundation for utilities, hardware and software manufacturers, energy management service providers, and others to build upon. Each organization's implementation of cyber security requirements should evolve as technology advances and new threats to grid security arise."

The report advocates a layered—or "defense in depth"—approach to security. Because cyber security threats are diverse and evolving, the report recommends implementing multiple levels of security.

The guidelines identify 137 interfaces—points of data exchange or other types of interactions within or between different Smart Grid systems and subsystems. These are assigned to one or more of 22 categories on the basis of shared or similar functional and security characteristics. In all, the report details 189 high-level security requirements applicable either to the entire Smart Grid or to particular parts of the grid and associated interface categories.  

The new report also includes:

  • a description of the risk assessment process used to identify the requirements;
  • a discussion of technical cryptographic and key management issues across the scope of Smart Grid systems and devices;
  • initial recommendations for addressing privacy risks and challenges pertaining to personal residences and electric vehicles;
  • an overview of the process that the CSWG developed to assess whether existing or new standards that enable Smart Grid interoperability also satisfy the high-level security requirements included in the report; and
  • summaries of research needs.

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress assigned NIST to coordinate development of a framework that would enable a Smart Grid that is safe, secure and interoperable from end to end. In its January 2010 report, NIST described a high-level conceptual reference model for the Smart Grid, identified existing or emerging standards relevant to the ongoing development of an interoperable Smart Grid, and spelled out several high-priority standards-related gaps and issues that NIST and its partners are now addressing.

All three volumes of Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security (NISTIR 7628) can be downloaded at:

Released September 2, 2010, Updated January 17, 2023