Do you know the costs of windfarm hacking? 

Wind-powered energy production has grown exponentially over the past decade, becoming part of the UKs critical infrastructure and a cornerstone of the UK energy strategy. The increasing number of windfarms and their potential for hackers to exploit them for criminal gain is making offshore wind an even more attractive target for cyber-attacks and hackers.

Once a windfarm has been exposed to an unauthorised access, the potential effects are huge. If access is gained to critical monitoring and control systems the output from the windfarm could be disrupted and even halted altogether, disrupting supply to the national grid. The actual turbines could even be physically damaged, taking them offline for a long time while necessary repairs are carried out and improvements to the plants security systems are put in place.

To give an idea to the scale of this issues, estimates equate one day of downtime for a 500MW wind farm to a loss of approximately £360,000.

The Hornsea One plant, currently under construction, will have an output of over 1200MW, so outage costs could total nearly a million pounds per day in addition to additional reputation costs and any regulatory costs that might be incurred.

The potential scale of these costs and the associated disruption to the UK’s energy supply, and recent hacking of utility companies in the USA have brought cybersecurity sharply into focus.

Windfarm owner/operators need to create secure digital networks and implement cyber best practice at their sites.

  • There are several reasons why wind parks, in general, are vulnerable to hackers.
  • Cybersecurity infrastructure and policy has been implemented without focussing on the specific requirements of windfarm operations and the software and systems that control them.
  • Older windfarms have been deployed that use non-secure control and monitoring protocols and have not been upgraded with newer technology.
  • On-site physical security can be lacking, providing a way to get physical access to on-site network equipment.
  • Vendor’s remote access is not always managed properly.

Operational technology/industrial control systems (OT/ICS) of wind farms are decentralised, with operations being controlled remotely at remote operations control centres and local workstations. This decentralisation of control systems requires the connected network links and equipment to be adequately secured and access to the individual elements of the controlling systems to be closely managed in a secure way.

Preventing network intrusion with VSN

Netlinkz Virtual Secure Network (VSN) technology provides physical and virtual secure ‘network as a service’ capabilities suitable for windfarms of any size. Deploying the VSN delivers a massive leap forward in security, speed, simplicity and cost-effective connectivity over fixed-line, wireless and mobile-based (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G) networks.

The VSN securely encrypts communications between each element of the control systems and makes it easy to control access to each one individually, for example securing a local operations centre and transmission control centre and granting access to different personnel to each one via an easy to use interface, and mobile app.

VSN overlays across any existing network and does not require any hardware. The overlay provides encrypted peer-to-peer and mesh connections, reducing bandwidth consumption and allowing individuals to securely control how they share or block data within the organisation, increasing the reliability and speed of data transfer.

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