Electric distribution reclosers can be cyber compromised to cause devastating wildfires

October 13, 2021, the San Jose Mercury News had the following headline: “High-wire act for PG&E: balancing safety, reliability”. PG&E is facing lawsuits and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of voluntary manslaughter in a 2018 blaze that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise. Consequently, PG&E is taking a zero-tolerance approach to “arcing,” which happens when an electric current along the line is interrupted and jumps through the air, releasing sparks. To prevent arcing, lines now shut down using distribution reclosers at the first sign of interrupted power. There is a connection between extreme drought, wildfires, and cyber threats. The more operations that occur with the reclosers, the higher the possibility of arcing causing sparks resulting in fires. However, when protection is setup correctly, distribution reclosers can provide reliability and reduce arcing assuming cyber protections are addressed. Unfortunately, distribution reclosers and other distribution devices are not being addressed for cyber security as the NERC CIP cyber security standards continue to consider electric distribution as out-of-scope.  There is a need to better understand the cyber vulnerabilities of physical equipment and to develop appropriate policies, procedures, and regulations before there are more devastating wildfires.



Control Systems Cybersecurity Expert, Joseph M. Weiss, is an international authority on cybersecurity, control systems and system security. Weiss weighs in on cybersecurity, science and technology, security emerging threats and more.