Can the Smart Grid Outsmart Hackers?

September 8, 2011

Computers hackers have been all across the news lately.  Sony experienced a full assault on its Playstation Network earlier this year, shuttering its gaming network for days and compromising nearly 100 million user accounts.  Last month’s Vanity Fair profiled Operation Shady Rat, a hacking campaign against a multitude of companies, non-profit organizations, and government agencies stretching across 14 countries.

If established entities are being threatened by this new “code war,” how safe is our nation’s energy infrastructure? Discovery News recently highlighted how America’s utilities are slowly waking up to the threat of cyber attack, echoes of which were also heard at NCF's event on infrastructure.  Potentially the most vulnerable aspects lie under the rubric of the “smart grid.”  Using advanced software and equipment, smart grid technology allows for the most efficient energy distribution possible.  Yet, it also opens up new points of access for hackers.  Every digital meter becomes a new “attack vector,” as the article puts it.  The whole piece is worth reading, but here’s an essential quote:

“When it comes to protecting against hackers, the nation's electric utilities are about where the financial and telecommunications industries were a decade ago, according to Andy Bochman, Energy Security Lead for IBM's Rational division, which focuses on smart-grid security software.  Bochman says the electrical sector has been late in the game when it comes to embracing information technology that focuses on security, but is catching up.  ‘We are now at a sustained back-and-forth between the powers that are trying to attack these systems, and forces aligned to defend them,’ Bochman said.”