Smart Grid

19 11 2011

The American power grid is ancient, much of it was built in a time before the microchip. In comparison the need for more electricity has sky rocketed, with most Americans powering their computers, smart phones, and other electronic devices, we are relying on an old technology to carry us forward3.  In order to fix this situation the smart grid has become a hot topic.   The smart grid is an attempt to more intelligently provide from the suppliers to the consumers.  The grid analyzes and predicts where and to whom the electricity need to go.  By placing small remote control computers on wires, substations, transformer, switches, and meters, all of these devices can talk together to provide energy where it is needed when it is needed.

The smart grid is a way to help improve both the power companies and the consumers.  With a smarter grid the power companies will be able to see where power outages occur, and where they have weaknesses in their systems.  With the current way of doing things power companies don’t even know there is a problem until a customer reports it.  On the consumer side, with a smart grid people will be able to see when and where they use power.  They can more easily see what devices take up the most power and how they can cut back their electricity usage and their electricity bill2.

When power companies place all these devices on the network and have them all talk to each other there are some major security concerns that arise.  The first security problem is the radio frequency communication that the devices use.  An attacker could access this wireless information and monitor the traffic, additionally they could insert their own data and change how power is distributed throughout the network.  The attacker could also stop a node from receiving or sending data, and could this type of attack shut down a network?1  All of these very important questions need to be asked, and the power companies that are implementing these systems need to have a plan.

Another point of weakness are the devices or meters in an individual homes.  If an attacker had access to the usage of power in a home, they could tell when people were home, when they were at work, or if they went on vacation.  Having this personal information sent to the power company to better supply you with a service is great, but what about the security risks of sending that information over an unsecured network.

There are countless ways that an attacker might try and gain access to information that could be sensitive.  The real question is what are the power companies doing to protect themselves and the consumer.  When the smart grid was first initialized and began deployment little consideration was put into the security.  Now that it was been in the field and attackers have gained access to sensitive information , these companies are starting to put security in place.

The important take away point here is that when organizations, be they corporate enterprises or government bodies, they need to think about the security of what they are trying to do.  When they were developing the smart grid the main points were probably, “look at all the neat things we could do with this”, and not many people were saying we need to look at the security implications of what we are attempting.  When groups like Anonymous or lolzsec declaring war on different organization, companies must have security of their infastructrure and their consume at the front of their minds.

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1.Lafferty, Shawn, and Tauseef Ghazi. “The Increasing Importance of Security for the Smart Grid – Utility Automation/Electric Light & Power.” Electric Transmission, Distribution, Generation Power Grid Technology: POWERGRID Intl – Electric Light and Power. Web. 08 Nov. 2011. <http://www.elp.com/index/display/article-display/6034594443/articles/utility-automation-engineering-td/volume-16/issue-4/features/the-increasing-importance-of-security-for-the-smart-grid.html&gt;.

2. “Smart Grid | Department of Energy.” Energy.gov | Department of Energy. Web. 08 Nov. 2011. <http://energy.gov/oe/technology-development/smart-grid&gt;.

3. United States. Department of Energy. The Smart Grid: An Introduction. <http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/oeprod/DocumentsandMedia/DOE_SG_Book_Single_Pages%281%29.pdf&gt;.

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