Protecting the Cyber Side

Companies required to manage property access, as well as secure facilities

Vandalism, theft and acts of terrorism in recent years have motivated the electric generation and transmission industry to seek viable security solutions. Companies must secure their facilities and protect their physical and electronic assets while managing access to their properties state-to-state over geographically widespread regions.

Recognizing the serious impact to the local and national economy, and to people's lives, when the power goes off, ITC Holdings makes it a priority to protect the transmission grid and provide efficient, reliable energy to its customers. ITC's vision is to have highly effective processes and procedures in place that meet or exceed the new government security standards.

A New Approach

Robert Blickensdorf, ITC's security manager, is responsible for project management as it relates to the installation, maintenance and operation of physical security at ITC facilities. He serves as the liaison between ITC, local law enforcement and other security organizations within the industry.

"ITC corporate leaders realize the importance of protecting our physical and electronic assets, and have been very supportive of our security initiatives," Blickensdorf said.

Facing an overwhelming array of choices and costs, ITC developed a risk-based methodology for pursuing a balanced approach to their security goals. ITC had to determine the type of physical security that would best serve each location, install and integrate the necessary security devices, and maintain and monitor the effectiveness of the system.

Facing threats of vandalism and theft due to the high price of copper and other metals on the open market, ITC adopted measures to prevent someone from accessing one of its sites with the intent of stealing metal and, in the process, causing damage that affects the reliability of the system or the safety of employees and contractors. Vulnerability is heightened at ITC's remote sites because of their isolation. In an effort to address these concerns, the company installed security equipment to prevent vandalism or theft at these sites.

"We do not want to give any individual or organization the opportunity to sabotage the system, because the impact is too far reaching," Blickensdorf said.

ITC's physical security projects encompass ITC headquarters, substations and warehouses. In addition to the live cameras and alarm system, the company has installed perimeter fence intrusion monitors, photobeam towers, infrared illumination devices, motiondetection towers and other physical security equipment at strategic locations. It also has an integrated online access card system installed throughout its facilities. Alarm information is quickly transmitted to the security command center for action.

Meeting the Standards

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. have established security standards to prevent electronic and physical attacks that could cripple the energy industry, which is a critical part of the nation's infrastructure.

In January 2008, critical infrastructure protection reliability standards were approved for the purpose of protecting the physical security of critical cyber assets. CIP Standard 006-1 "requires a responsible entity to create and maintain a physical security plan that ensures that all cyber assets within an electronic security perimeter also reside within an identified physical security perimeter. The physical security plan ... must contain processes for identifying, controlling and monitoring all access points and authorization requests. The logging of physical access must occur at all times, and the information logged must be sufficient to uniquely identify individuals."

Logistic challenges confronted ITC in developing a strategy for meeting the CIP Reliability Standards. As officials began to tackle these issues, they looked for a secure access control system that would provide the flexibility they needed. Most importantly, the company needed a system that could bring key control and an audit trail to its remote sites without requiring power at the lock.

"We required a system that could eliminate the risks associated with the duplication of keys and assist us with CIP compliance by tracking contractors and employees that go into locations that contain critical cyber assets," Blickensdorf said.

They were looking for a product that also could be integrated with the security equipment and systems they already had in place. The use of the electronic key has eliminated issues that ITC experienced in the past with mechanical keys.

"With the new restrictive electronic key in the field, we have accountability and an electronic record of where the key has been used, how it has been used and by whom," Blickensdorf said.

Each electronic key is set with an automatic expiration date to reduce the risks associated with lost keys. If a key is missing, ITC can quickly deactivate the key or let the key automatically expire.

The Key to Security

"Everyone in the industry is working toward CIP compliance," Blickensdorf said. "The electronic lock system assists us with compliance to CIP standards by tracking people who go into locations that contain critical cyber assets."

An electronic lock allows officials to download information about the lock and determine who recently accessed it. Each authorized user's key is programmed to access selected locks at specific locations and only during certain times of the day. The electronic locks and keys audit openings and attempts to enter areas that protect electronic data and equipment.

"The electronic lock system provides a two-pronged approach to controlling physical access to our electronic assets," Blickensdorf said. "First, we can control who we issue a key to and how the key is to be used by that person. Second, we can track that person's activity at the different sites."

By partnering with a capable access control system integrator and taking advantage of today's advances in security technology, ITC has integrated security systems that will continue to provide the physical security and accountability it requires. As government standards evolve and new security threats emerge, ITC is in a strong position to respond quickly and decisively.

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Security Today.

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