Connected field crews provide significant productivity gains but also increase vulnerability to cyber threats.
Mobile technology enables field crews such as line workers, field technicians and utility inspectors to access mission critical information about the jobs assigned to them. Work orders can be dispatched and tracked in real time, geographic information systems (GIS) data can be accessed from the field, and the use of spare parts can be recorded right on the job. All information is wirelessly transmitted to the company’s ERP system and other critical business systems to ensure timely attention to problems, restocking of parts and maintenance of equipment.
Machine to machine (M2M) communication is another area with huge potential for energy and utility companies. Smart meters and sensors are already a reality. This technology automates the management and maintenance of the utility company’s infrastructure with large cost savings as a result.
Mobile technologies can significantly improve productivity and customer service, but are also making energy and utility companies more vulnerable to cyber threats. A federal report from the Department of Homeland Security shows that the number of cyber attacks on computer systems of power grid and gas pipeline companies rose in 2012. Attacks can cause service interruptions and even wreak havoc on the electric system and other critical infrastructure resources.
Columbitech Mobile VPN is a security software solution especially developed for wireless networks. It creates a secure tunnel between a mobile device and the utility company’s corporate network by using FIPS 140-2 validated end-to-end encryption in compliance with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) critical infrastructure protection (CIP) standards. In addition, the implementation of the approved security protocols and algorithms has been validated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The use of a validated product with approved security components guarantees best practice and ensures regulatory compliance.
Columbitech’s mobile VPN supports advanced two-factor or multi-factor authentication with single sign-on to ensure that only authorized users are granted access to the network. Supported authentication methods include unique client certificates, user-based public key infrastructure, onetime passwords, smartcards, biometric systems, and software and hardware tokens. The Columbitech management server automates tracking of all network attempts to demonstrate compliance.
In addition, Columbitech Mobile VPN provides integrity monitoring (SHA-1) of all data in motion as well as support for Network Access Control (NAC), which enables enforcement of the company’s IT policy.
Columbitech Mobile VPN offers multi-platform support, including Apple iOS and Mac OS, Android, Windows and Linux, and can be deployed for any IP-based network for seamless roaming between cellular, Wi-Fi and satellite networks.
Advanced mobility features
Field crews constantly move around and often work in remote areas with poor cellular coverage, causing their mobile devices to lose coverage with negative impact on productivity. Many utility companies rely on multiple cellular carriers as well as Wi-Fi and satellite services to provide best possible network coverage. Roaming between networks is therefore a challenge.
Columbitech Mobile VPN enables automatic roaming between networks and creates a persistent connection between the mobile device and the company’s server as utility workers move around and roam between different cellular carriers and Wi-Fi and satellite networks, or temporarily lose coverage. The mobile VPN automatically reestablishes the connection so that users do not lose data or have to reauthenticate and restart applications when the connection is reestablished.
Advanced data compression provides up to 100 percent faster throughput than do SSL and IPSec VPNs. This improves the application performance in networks with limited bandwidth.