Cybersecurity and the Smart Grid

Michael Giberson

Yesterday on the front page of the Wall Street Journal was a report of cyber-attacks on electric utility systems. Computerworld gives this overview of the story. Cheryl Morgan provides a run down of some of the issues, including whether development of a smart grid will increase or decrease the vulnerability of transmission infrastructure to internet-based disruptions.

The WSJ‘s Environmental Capital blog also raises the smart grid angle, asking whether a smart grid will help repel attackers or make access easier.

At NewsWatch: Energy, Tom Fowler notes reactions to the WSJ story from NERC and ERCOT, and follows up with comments from former FERC chairman Pat Wood.

I’m not expert enough on utility computer systems generally, or computer security specifically, to offer many useful remarks. My intuition is that a well-designed transactive smart grid will help minimize the costs of any intrusion, since it should decentralize decisionmaking and control relative to the vertically-oriented, centralized utility systems we have today.

One thought on “Cybersecurity and the Smart Grid

  1. Essentially, the “spy” story is about people hacking into the dispatch control systems and turning plants on or off without the correct authorization, thus creating chaos. In the past year, there have been a couple of cases (that I am aware of) of peakers “turning themselves on” without an explicit dispatch signal from any authorized source (ISO or owner).

    Will the “Smart Grid” help? Well, if we have a large amount of distributed generation that does not have remote dispatchability, then yes, we are more secure. But that doesn’t have a lot to do with “smart grid”, which is all about optimizing the centralized utility systems that we currently have.

    Any sentient person knows that those systems are not going to go away for a long time – in 50 years, we will still be meeting most of our power needs with large-scale centralized generation. A lot of uninformed laypersons think that if we all put solar panels on our roofs we can get rid of coal and nuke plants, but that is so far from the reality as to be laughable.

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