Move Beyond NERC CIP Compliance for Utilities

30 Jun 2023

Building a Robust Security Program for Electric Utilities

In this blog, OTORIO OT security experts address NERC CIP Challenges and Opportunities for Utilities.

Energy and utility firms are no strangers to building cybersecurity compliance programs using the NERC-CIP control framework. Typically, the emphasis is on meeting the requirements of the applicable NERC-CIP controls to steer clear of potential fines. Consequently, a considerable amount of resources - both human effort and funding - is devoted to abiding by the regulations.

Compliance requirements have undoubtedly driven investment and raised awareness about the importance of cybersecurity. However, determining whether optimal security can be ensured by them alone is a question that lacks a clear-cut answer. Although compliance is a necessary foundation for developing an effective security program, it does not necessarily ensure the implementation of robust security design and posture.

It is critical, therefore, that organizations maintain compliance while simultaneously working to build a security program that addresses vulnerabilities that regulations do not. Implementing multiple security controls like Firewalls and IDS does not guarantee comprehensive protection. In other words, even if you believe that you have secured everything, that might not be the case - there may still be vulnerabilities that you are exposed to. In today's dynamic, interconnected operational environment and strictly regulated landscape, adopting a risk-informed approach can enable Utilities to scale their OT cybersecurity efforts to address present and future challenges.

Digitization and Risk Management Challenges

As supply chains rapidly transform and digitization takes over, industrial organizations face an increasing number of cyber risks. Today, securing complex multivendor, multi-generation ICS environments demands a comprehensive understanding of operational technology (OT), security posture, and operational context. Compliance and governance assessments are now common practices to ensure operational effectiveness and security in critical infrastructure and industrial operations.

To ensure the continuity of power supplies and the protection of community safety, electric utilities are required to implement NERC CIP compliance programs. However, given the growing complexity of these environments, manual assessments have become a costly, time-consuming, and laborious pursuit.

By introducing automation into the process, utilities can save time and money while still meeting regulatory obligations.

Increasing Vulnerabilities and Threats

Rapid digitization and connectivity have eroded the “air gaps” that traditionally insulated OT networks from external threats. With increased remote access granted to employees, vendors, and service providers, the attack surface has expanded even more. These shifts have made OT environments more exposed to supply chain risks that also exist on IT networks. The IT industry's high-profile breaches, like SolarWinds, Kaseya, Log4j, and others, have multiplied the pressure on OT security professionals.

Energy and Utility Companies are providers of critical services, which puts emphasis on the need for continuous availability. Unfortunately, cybercriminals are aware of how crucial uptime is for these services and are more likely to attack and demand payment. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and ransomware are common threats against OT environments. Therefore, Energy and Utility companies should take a proactive approach to OT security and NERC CIP compliance.

Navigating the Changing Regulatory Environment

Compliance frameworks play a fundamental role in promoting awareness and action, but frequently, they are developed in response to security incidents. Government directives and best practices have proliferated after such incidents, raising the bar for "time to action". Energy and utility firms are responsible for complying with multiple, ever-changing security policies - such as NERC CIP, NIST CSF, and IEC62443.

The key to upholding OT security and satisfying compliance requirements sits with continuous integrated, continuous monitoring and efficient compliance enforcement. To do this, companies are advised to automate cross-domain data collection and quantify risk according to business impact. This enables IT-OT security teams to prioritize risk and focus on mitigating the most important risks, improve operational resilience, and keep NERC CIP compliant using a single framework.

How RAM² Assists with NERC CIP Requirements

OTORIO empowers Energy and Utility Companies to manage compliance and mitigate risks through a comprehensive yet simplified risk management platform.
With continual monitoring and RAM² seamless integration with various operational systems, our platform ensures top-notch security and compliance for your peace of mind.

Leveraging OTORIO’s continuous OT cyber risk management solutions, companies can now:

  • Implementing a solution that delivers continuous risk monitoring assists organizations in reducing human error and accelerating the response to identified risks.
  • Enhance visibility inot IT and OT systems with continuous monitoring that provides a transparent view of their security posture across all critical systems. This enables Utilitiy companies to plan ahead for future compliance requirements.
  • Quickly and accurately identify cyber threats and respond to them in a fast and efficient manner. This reduces the MTTD (Mean Time To Detect) and MTTR (Mean Time To Response) but also provides better insights into potential vulnerabilities.
  • Leverage automated assessments to ensure compliance with NERC CIP regulations while simultaneously improving operational efficiency. Ultimately, by automating critical processes, utilities are able to increase their security posture and reduce the risk of a cyber attack.


OTORIO for Energy and Utility Companies

The journey to achieve cybersecurity maturity in OT security is hardly ever a straight line. Resource constraints like budget and time are common. However, building a culture where IT and OT work collaboratively is essential, enabling Utilities to expand their OT cybersecurity initiatives, meeting the needs of the ever-increasing digital transformation era. It is a challenge Energy, and Utility Companies must embrace.

RAM² empowers security practitioners by enabling them to conduct security posture and compliance assessments for individual assets or the entire operational network from a single platform. The solution offers out-of-the-box capabilities for assessing compliance with industrial security standards such as NERC CIP, NIST 800-82, IEC 62443, NIS2, and many more. It provides detailed and overall compliance scores, highlighting any deviation and the necessary remediation actions. With RAM², the endeavor of generating all necessary assessment documentation is greatly simplified in terms of time and effort required.

This RAM² NERC CIP Coverage solution brief explains in more detail how OTORIO'S RAM² continuous monitoring and risk assessment capabilities allow Utilities to efficiently manage operational compliance and secure, uninterrupted power supply to the community