Print 24 comment(s) - last by phantom505.. on Oct 10 at 1:19 PM

  (Source: U.S. Department of Energy)

An old fashioned grid may be inefficient, but it may be easier to secure than a "smart grid". Much of the benefits of a smart grid come from internet connectivity, and that connectivity opens the door to attacks.  (Source: Shuttershock)

Lockheed Martin's Kenneth Van Meter  (Source: West Virginia University)
Coincidentally Lockheed Martin happens to sell security software

Lockheed Martin's General Manager of Energy & Cyber Services, Kenneth Van Meter, speaking with green-power site Smart Planet voiced some dire warnings about the United States' push to adopt a "smart grid".  According to Mr. Van Meter, the transition poses a glaring threat to the security of the U.S.

He comments, "Right now if I wanted to cut off the power to your house, I’d climb the pole, and there’s a manual switch. Everything’s physical. Once we have a smart grid in place I could do that from China."

"The sheer volume of interactive devices on two-way networks is the biggest risk. By the end of 2015 we will have 440 million new hackable points on the grid. Nobody’s equipped to deal with that today."

When asked about the worse case scenario he remarks:

There are three. The one everyone thinks about is the neighborhood kid or someone in another country turning off the power to the neighborhood or the hospital in the middle of night. While no one wants that to happen, it’ll be detected pretty quickly, so it’s not a disaster.

The second potential problem has to do with voltage control. If you want to optimize the amount of power the electrical company has, you want to engage in voltage control, where you have devices along the line from the substation. You can adjust the voltage, everyone gets the right voltage, and everyone’s appliances are running more efficiently. Putting in those devices is expensive, and now those become hackable points–because if you can control them, then someone else can control them. So if your power is out, that would be highly inconvenient. But what if they ran the voltage up and down on your house and when it was fixed, the voltage-sensitive equipment like your computer and high-definition TV didn’t work any more?

Third: If you can cause rapid problems in the grid to occur in the right places at scheduled times, you could destabilize the whole grid, black out whole cities or states and cause massive damage. Sometimes this happens accidentally, but it could also happen because someone makes it happen. Some of the devices are very expensive and therefore there are few spares. Substation-sized transformers, for example, aren’t even made in this country anymore and sometimes it can take two years to get one.

Coincidentally, Mr. Van Meter's company sells security solutions to utilities, so his reason for evangelizing about the smart grid's insecurity may not be purely altruistic.  And Lockheed Martin has had its own security woes recently, with Chinese spies reportedly breaking into servers used in the company's F-35 Lightning II fighter project.

Nonetheless, the points raised are largely valid.  Virtually every large piece of software (Windows, Linux, OS X, Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Adobe Flash, etc.) created has had vulnerabilities that have been found and exploited.  Its unlikely to think that the software that governs the grid will be free of similar vulnerabilities.

A web-connected grid, like Google Grid or Microsoft Hohm, sounds great on paper, but it introduces a pressing need for security, as people from all over the world can now try to attack the power infrastructure remotely.  And where a typical cyberattack may merely deny people access to a website, or damage their personal computers, an attack on the grid could literally prove deadly.  So Lockheed Martin may be a bit biased, but they're probably right, in this case.

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Separate important networks from the internet
By Azsen on 10/5/2010 9:05:38 AM , Rating: 2
There's no way you need to have the electrical grid (which links up to nuclear reactors) on the internet. That's just stupid. Defense, Power, and any other critical systems should be on separate networks full stop. The rest of the world doesn't need access to them.

RE: Separate important networks from the internet
By MrTeal on 10/5/2010 9:25:58 AM , Rating: 2
That's easy to say and expensive to do.

How would you go about connecting all the diverse substations, plants, meters, etc together? String out an entirely new network coast to coast in order to keep them physically separate? Realistically routing the signals over the internet is the only cost effective way of implementing a smart grid.

RE: Separate important networks from the internet
By saganhill on 10/5/2010 9:39:50 AM , Rating: 2
There is already technology that enables the electrical grid itself to be a "network" and data carrier. You could bypass the internet all together and just use the electrical grid thats already there as the "network".

By Iaiken on 10/5/2010 10:00:09 AM , Rating: 3
This is how the Canadian grid is networked.

The problem is, you can still get devices that you simply plug into the wall and gain access to this network.

Conversely, this allows power authorities to bring the grid up faster after a massive failure like the 2003 blackout. Operators were able to route power from black start facilities to the nukes and get them back online faster than any other part of North America.

Basically, they were able to ramp up power at the black starts and add/remove loads to create ever-lengthening lifelines of power that stretched across huge geographical areas.

By invidious on 10/5/2010 9:41:53 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, if its not worth doing right then its not worth doing.

By StevoLincolnite on 10/5/2010 9:45:03 AM , Rating: 1
How would you go about connecting all the diverse substations, plants, meters, etc together? String out an entirely new network coast to coast in order to keep them physically separate? Realistically routing the signals over the internet is the only cost effective way of implementing a smart grid.

Not at all, you can already buy Ethernet over Power networking gear to use your own homes electrical "grid" as a means to network your home.

Think of the electrical grid as a highly complex copper phone line network... And just like the copper phone line it can be potentially used for internet connections. (Please note: Neither the original copper phone line or the power grid was originally designed with broadband in mind, but it is still possible.)

RE: Separate important networks from the internet
By mmatis on 10/5/2010 10:17:15 AM , Rating: 2
Please note "Iaiken" above in the second paragraph. This "new" network is hackable from every electrical outlet, and therefor no more secure than the Internet. This article is about the bad guys being able to take down the US power distribution system due to the drive to make it "smart". Stuxnet, anyone?

By carniver on 10/5/2010 12:41:18 PM , Rating: 3
Still, the hacker will be local, so you may pinpoint his physical location and raid it. Compared that to somewhere out on another continent which is the case for the internet.

By Iaiken on 10/5/2010 12:57:50 PM , Rating: 2
There are still ways to make it secure, you can install filters at the line terminators where it splits off to each house to eliminate digital signals from passing. Then you use an obscenely strong (512-bit+) private key encryption system. Each device on the network would have it's own key that is known only to it and the system operator.

This basically makes it so that attacking the system as a whole is practically impossible and even attacking an individual device on the network is so impractical that it would be ineffectual. Of course, this is highly impracticable to put into place over large geographies and so only nations like France, Spain and Japan have AGC systems security of this magnitude.

I can't actually talk about how the Ontario grid systems security scheme works (because I am still under NDA for another 15 years), however, I can say that I certainly don't worry about it being vulnerable to attack any time within that period. I'll just say that it's a very effective compromise.

RE: Separate important networks from the internet
By knutjb on 10/5/2010 11:07:25 AM , Rating: 2
That's the technical side look at the logistics side. Food is delivered on a just in time plan. If you knock out the power grid for a few days you will have serious problems, rotting fresh food is very ugly.

Stores, and pretty much every business, are run electronically and they will shut down too. Fuel won't be shipped, no gas, no ac or heat. There are a number of potentially catastrophic outcomes from someone screwing with the grid.

Suck up the minor inefficiencies and keep the sparks flowing. To not do so will lead to very ugly situations. Look at the last brown or black out in NY...

By Iaiken on 10/5/2010 12:43:15 PM , Rating: 2
Most governments call this the "golden trinity" (or something to that effect) made up of energy, finance and agriculture.

Basically, if you interrupt any one of the above, the other two are affected. If you can affect all three long enough, the fabric of society will begin to break down.

By FaaR on 10/5/2010 11:08:28 AM , Rating: 1
One simple reason... Cost. It's (much much much) cheaper to hook up to existing infrastructure and tunnel through VPN than lay down separate bunches of cable all across the country.

Not neccessarily smarter, but way cheaper. :P

RE: Separate important networks from the internet
By Ammohunt on 10/5/2010 2:48:19 PM , Rating: 2
More reason to live OFF the smart Grid..or any grid for that matter.

By US56 on 10/6/2010 1:35:19 PM , Rating: 2
One could crack that there's no such thing as a "smart grid" and that the electrical power grid is a dinosaur from a bygone era but unfortunately we're not there yet. I'd prefer to be "off the grid" entirely in the wider meaning of no dependence on utility companies whatsoever. The more I have to deal with utility companies and their parasitic bureaucracies the more it's like dealing with government parasitic bureaucracies which they are, in effect, as a product of the government regulatory regime. If there was a total life cycle cost effective way to store energy we would mostly be off the power grid now. Given that the grid will be a necessary evil for some time I'd prefer not to over invest via tax dollars and utility rates in renewing infrastructure which is going to be increasingly obsolete and redundant not to mention exceptionally vulnerable to EMP. Eventually we'll have the enviable problem of dealing with "thermal pollution" from all the LENR power generators in vehicles or on premises. Then the "energy czar" will tell you how many megawatts may be output by the engine in your car instead of telling you it will have to get 62 mpg. As for providing separate communications for monitoring and control of the existing grid, it's a no brainer. Done all the time for other physical plant applications and not an excuse for the electric power utilities to screw their ratepayers or taxpayers to get it done. Since the grid has established rights of way and easements, they can simply hang fiber on existing towers or underground it with their power cables. The additional cost isn't significant when the far more costly investment has already been made. For a better long term solution, the U.S. government might want to consider making secure and highly survivable network bandwidth available similar to the existing capability for military and other federal government agencies in the event of an emergency for managing critical infrastructure and providing "base band" communications for state and local government agencies as well as ordinary citizens given the expectation of an inevitable EMP event whether made made or otherwise.

Not to worry...
By Beenthere on 10/5/2010 11:05:05 AM , Rating: 1
There is no chance in Hell of anything smart regarding the U.S. electric grid when financial greed runs amuck.

RE: Not to worry...
By knutjb on 10/5/2010 11:08:51 AM , Rating: 2
Comrade, time to check back in at the "home," you've been away from your meds too long.

RE: Not to worry...
By Beenthere on 10/5/2010 12:08:04 PM , Rating: 1
Not at all. The U.S. can't even keep the existing grid functional let alone convert it to a "smart" grid. Being in denial doesn't change reality. It is what it is and it ain't good.

RE: Not to worry...
By Iaiken on 10/5/2010 1:30:07 PM , Rating: 4
This is where you are both right and wrong.

The state of the current US grid ranges from dilapidated to immaculate. The problem is that the companies in charge of the grids have no incentives to engage in preventative maintenance simply for the fact that they aren't on the hook if the grid fails. Nor can they be, you can't put them out of business because of slip ups because nobody would be willing to take up the reigns.

So the problem is, how do you upgrade the oldest parts of the grid and then ensure that the system operators can then proactively upgrade the system AND make money.

It's a much more complicated problem than you make it out to be, further complicated by it falling under the jurisdiction of the state. When you factor in that parts of the grid are owned and operated by foreign corporations it becomes even more complicated.

Back in 2003, the lights went out in almost the entire North-East because some accountants in Britain thought it would look better on the books if they put off trimming some trees in Ohio till the following year.

By fic2 on 10/5/2010 4:31:42 PM , Rating: 4
Just use McAfee. That will turn anything smart into something dumb with just a couple of updates.

It's a given
By amanojaku on 10/5/2010 8:42:05 AM , Rating: 2
That when a for-profit engages you or your organization the statement "and we have a solution" follows. For-profits don't do anything that doesn't generate revenue, which includes scoping out opportunities. (Side note: Be wary of organizations selling you resident consultants. There is a growing trend of positioning residents to up-sell while sacrificing completion of milestones. Counter this with a tightly written statement of work, and don't blame the consultant for doing his job. Unless he's a smarmy bastard.)

That being said, Lockheed is correct in that a smart grid is a potential security threat. There are claims that it's already happened with "intelligent" portions of our current dumb grid, so a smart grid would create more points of entry. I don't mind a smart grid monitoring my use; the worst that can happen is I get a bill that doesn't match my in-house meter. A quick photo and several trips to court can fix that. A grid that can control stuff opens up a wealth of issues. Brown and black-outs that damage electronics, or deprive medical equipment of much needed power are my main concerns.

Why not combine the two.
By goobaah on 10/5/2010 9:40:21 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, the smart grid poses security threats. But, if you leave the old mechanical protection in place, you can avoid damage to equipment in the event someone takes control. It won't stop someone from turning off the power, but avoids catastrophe. Damaging the grid is the worst possible outcome. Power could be out for weeks or longer. You cannot just get replacements parts and plug them in.

By chunkymonster on 10/7/2010 9:52:16 AM , Rating: 2
As someone who works for a gas and electric utility, I can say with some confidence that moving to any type of "smart" grid will take years and millions of dollars to complete.

At the Local Delivery Company (LDC) level, meaning the company that owns the poles, pipes, and wires that supply electricity to your house and neighborhood, would have to basically completely overhaul their entire infrastructure to provide this type of remote connectivity and control. As it today, any moves by LDC's to employ a "smart" grid is limited to monitoring of outages and voltage controls (SCADA) with very limited, if any, capability to actually open and close switches at the substation or delivery circuit level. And at most, LDC's are installing "smart meters" as a means to provide remote meter reading capability and possibly shut off or turn on the power to a specific meter in case of a non-paying customer.

You have to remember that the poles, pipes, and wires are privately owned assets by the LDC. Any moves to install a smart grid are at capital expense to the LDC and recoverable through the rate base, and ultimately at the cost of increased electric rates to the rate payer. If installing smart grid technology is solely based on the return on investment that comes from the rate payers, many rate payers will not support any increase in their electric rates just so the LDC can install smart grid technology. If anything, smart grid technology will need to be subsidized by the State Regulatory Agency through rate incentives or through Federal government tax incentives.

As far as the 2nd scenario with "hackable" points that could potentially allow for nefarious persons to "mess up the voltage" is offset by the physical devices (capacitors, circuit redundancy, etc) built into the delivery system to mitigate those types of issues. It will take many years, if ever, for any remote control to be placed on the fuses and switches that actually run down neighborhood streets.

This "warning" is alarmist at best and apparent that Lockheed Martin is over estimating the capabilities of the smart grid as well as seemingly giving a shameless plug for their security systems; no doubt that the recent events at the Iranian nuke stations has something to so with this.

The national electric grid has to worry more about some nut job placing a bomb at the base of select electric transmission tower lines than some geek hacker wanting to cause a black out.

Any plumber can tell you....
By marvdmartian on 10/5/2010 8:49:53 AM , Rating: 1
...the more you complicate the plumbing, the easier it is to clog up the drain!

In other words, make the engineers/designers stick with the KISS principle.

Keep It Simple, Stupid!!

Of course, the whole varying voltage thing can be combatted with a simple line conditioner. Anyone who doesn't have one on their home theater equipment is just asking for trouble, imho. FYI, battery backups (UPS's) have them built in.

What about the Cylon Attack?
By phantom505 on 10/10/10, Rating: 0
"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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