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The (Not) NIST Great Guidance on Smart Grid Assessments

The (Not) NIST Great Guidance on Smart Grid Assessments

Not that long ago I bemoaned the fact that there was too much guidance on Smart Grid Security.

So it may seem odd that I’m about to profess admiration for some new guidance, namely the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP) “Guide for Assessing the High-Level Security Requirements in NISTIR 7628, Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security”.

The original three volumes of 7628 cover almost 700 pages and were one of the main drivers of my original blog. In fact, I almost didn’t look at the new document after it was sent by a colleague, except that his note that “I think you will actually like this one!” had me intrigued. Well, he was right.

There are two main things that have me optimistic about the document:

  • It focuses on security assessment rather than good practices for security guidelines for implementation. Having been part of comprehensive multi-vendor Smart Grid Security Assessment projects, I know from experience that the approaches taken from various vendors differed dramatically, which notably impacted the amount of assurance that the Utility was receiving. This is good for Utilities in that a standardized approach simplifies the process of selecting a vendor, validating the security assessment work effort, interpreting the security assessment report, and remediating the issues identified. This is good for Smart Grid Security assessment vendors (like us) for the same exact reasons.
  • It leverages a well-vetted approach — NIST 800-53A. This includes everything from scaling the assessment activities based on risk classification to referencing the same NIST 800-53 families and controls to defining the appropriate activities to assess each control. The document could have been called “Using NIST800-53A to Assess Smart Grid Cyber Security.” Rather than adding to the confusion, this approach clarifies it, in that we are beginning to see the harmonization of NIST with Smart Grid Security.


The only odd thing about this new document is how often and far it goes towards specifically stating that it is not a NIST document (Yet). It is, however, a valuable adjunct to the NIST guidance. I highly recommend it to anyone charged with enforcing Smart Grid Security.


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About the Author:

John Verry (CISA, 27001 Certified Lead Auditor, CCSE, CRISC) is Pivot Point's resident "Security Sherpa". He is lucky enough to spend most of his day helping clients develop a road map to address security, compliance, and attestation requirements.

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