4.08.2009

Smart grid

A little while ago, Fox News ran a fear-mongering article on the dangers to the Obama Smart Grid plan:
Obama's economic stimulus package allocates $4.5 billion to modernize the nation's electricity system and put smart-grid technology on the fast track.

But creating a two-way line of communication between homes and the grid — however "smart" it may be — has its risks, experts say.

"With smart grid, anybody with an eBay account and $80 can go and buy a smart meter, reverse-engineer it and figure out how to attack the grid," said Josh Pennell, president and CEO of IOActive, a technology research firm in Seattle, who testified before the Department of Homeland Security last week.

On the other hand, he said, "If people are going to attack a power grid right now, it would need to be a very well-funded operation."

Pennell envisions low-level hackers trying to steal customer data for the purposes of fraud — or an international terrorist group infiltrating the grid and causing a massive power blackout.

There have already been several instances of hackers breaking into foreign power grids and holding the electricity supply for ransom, a CIA analyst told a conference of utility engineers last year, according to the Associated Press.
Terrorists!

Today, The WSJ reiterrates that this is not a specific threat to the Smart Grid, but rather an ongoing threat:
WASHINGTON -- Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

"The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," said a senior intelligence official. "So have the Russians."

The espionage appeared pervasive across the U.S. and doesn't target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official. "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official said, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."
And it makes sense that entities would want to rummage around a little in our grid. But would then a Smart Grid not be more safe from attack than what we have now? Similar to how the decentralized nature of a Smart Grid guards from widespread power outages due to weather or demand, would it also not be more capable of guarding against attack?