Smart Grid

January 28, 2013

FishNet Security and KSU Smart Grid Lab Test Software Defined Networking

The name of the company implies “gaps”—but Overland Park, Kansas-based Fishnet Security, intends to head off every possible breach when it comes to power grid security.

FishNet Security, an information security provider, announced on January 24 that it will donate, integrate and manage software-defined networking (SDN) equipment at a new Smart Grid Lab at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. The lab will be one of the first facilities in the world to test the ways in which SDN technology can be used to more efficiently manage, distribute, use and secure electrical power.

The increase in intelligent devices on power grids has multiplied the amount of communications traffic on electrical smart grids—making them more vulnerable to delays, security breaches, data losses, dropped packets, network overloads, equipment failures and subsequent power losses. SDN shows promise in countering these problems because of its ability to control traffic outside the switching fabric commonly used today.

"FishNet Security is proud to be uniting with Kansas State University, and several of our leading technology partners to learn how SDN technology can benefit electrical power grids," said Gary Fish, founder and CEO at FishNet Security. "SDN shows great promise in its ability to improve the control and security of electrical grids. We look forward to joining the university in researching ways to improve electrical systems in its new lab and eventually in real-world environments."

Power grid and network communication equipment will reside in the lab, which is being operated through the university's department of electrical and computer engineering. The initiative will support undergraduate and graduate student projects, and will further opportunities for internships and future employment opportunities for Kansas State University students in the power field.

"Kansas State University looks forward to working with FishNet Security and our other lab partners to see the role that SDN can play in improving our country's electrical grid," said Noel Schulz, the College of Engineering's associate dean for research at Kansas State University and the director of the Smart Grid Laboratory. "Another benefit is that our students will get to see first-hand how SDN might be used to deliver power in a more economical, secure and environmentally friendly way."

Benefits and Challenges of SDN

Software-defined networking is an emerging technology that uses software to control where switches send packets of information. Traditionally, firmware within switches has been used in this role. However, with SDN, traffic can be routed with software in an SDN controller separate from the network equipment. This "decoupling" in SDN technology is particularly advantageous to cloud computing because a network administrator can use a control console and routing tables to remotely direct traffic loads across multi-vendor networks, platforms, circuits and hardware.

The benefits of SDN include network simplification, automation, scalability and address mobility. However, one of the key challenges of SDN is the authentication, authorization and accounting of security. For example, anyone with access to an SDN controller should be authorized to create a route to direct packets of information through a network. Otherwise, there is a risk of successful network attacks inside and outside corporate firewalls without the implementation of security protocols. These attacks can lead to network overloads, a loss of data, compliance breaches, damaged equipment and a loss of privacy.

FishNet Security is heavily involved with the following major organizations interested in developing SDN standards and furthering the use of the technology:

  •          The Open Networking Foundation;
  •          All research universities focused on Web 2.0 (e.g., social networking sites, blogs, wikis and video-sharing sites);
  •          The US Ignite Partnership, an organization focused on next-generation applications that can improve how Americans work, live, learn  and play
  •          SDNCentral, one of the leading and fastest-growing SDN industry community organizations in the world.

“There’s no doubt that SDN technologies and methodologies will impact security architectures,” said Fish. “We’re working closely with our customers to ensure the adoption of SDN within their infrastructures is beneficial and does not jeopardize their security profiles. Our SDNCentral membership will give us influence in the evolving SDN space by helping ensure that security is given the high priority it deserves to decrease the potential risks associated with SDN deployments and management.”