Westinghouse, McAfee to equip nuclear plants with new cybersecurity systems [The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]By Thomas Olson, The Pittsburgh Tribune-ReviewMcClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Oct. 24--Amid growing concern about cyber attacks on America's infrastructure, Westinghouse Electric Corp. on Wednesday signed an agreement with an Intel Corp. subsidiary to provide cybersecurity software to nuclear power plant control systems around the world.
The agreement with McAfee Inc. means Westinghouse will offer systems to new and existing nuclear power plants, whether designed by Cranberry-based Westinghouse or a competitor. The companies did not disclose terms of their deal.
Large-scale systems -- known as supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA, systems -- are critical to operation of facilities from water treatment plants to banks to power plants.
"But SCADA systems themselves have been very vulnerable to cyber attacks, such as denial of service or just about anything else you can do," said E. Douglas Harris, executive director of the CyberSecurity and Emergency Preparedness Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas.
The government worked with the nuclear energy industry to make power plants "less vulnerable than other places," he said, and they are safer than most industrial sites. "But there's no perfect SCADA system that people can't eventually break through," said Harris. "The cyber criminals and cyber terrorists can always find a way."
The United States is home to 104 nuclear power plants, including 62 designed by Westinghouse or affiliate Combustion Engineering.
Most of them employ digital technology, which McAfee's software serves, to control some or all systems, said a Westinghouse official.
Westinghouse digital instrumentation and control systems met Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines but this agreement "enables Westinghouse to now offer attack detection and prevention capabilities from an industry-leading cybersecurity company that our customers recognize and trust," said David Howell, senior vice president of Westinghouse Nuclear Automation.
About 45 percent of the world's 440 nuclear reactors are Westinghouse designs. The company employs about 14,000 people, including about 6,000 in Western Pennsylvania, mostly at its headquarters.
A year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the NRC ordered power plants to enhance defenses against cyber attacks. By early 2007, the commission's guidelines included specific requirements for digital instrumentation and controls. It finalized comprehensive guidelines in early 2010.
"It is a basic feature of nuclear power plants that systems that control the reactor are isolated from the outside world," said commission spokesman Scott Burnell.
"But that being said, we have cybersecurity requirements today that take into account that there are other parts of the grid and the control systems for the grid that have to be protected against cyber attack."
The McAfee systems detect and prevent cyber attacks on digital control systems that a saboteur launches directly from inside a plant or through corporate network connection from the outside.
Cyber attacks recently hit several high-profile corporations, including Pittsburgh's biggest bank.
PNC Bank's online banking systems were overwhelmed on Sept. 26 and 27 with a "denial of service" cyber attack that froze customers out of accounts. On Wednesday, Barnes & Noble Inc. said someone bugged card payment devices in 63 stores, including two in the Pittsburgh area.
FirstEnergy Corp. operates two Westinghouse nuclear reactors at its Beaver Valley plant in Shippingport and two nuclear reactors in northern Ohio. All run on older analog, not digital, technology and are protected against cyber attack, said Jennifer Young, a utility spokeswoman.
She said if FirstEnergy upgrades the plants to digital, "cybersecurity would be an important consideration in selecting that system."
Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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