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  (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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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.


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