Current risks of cyberattack on electric utilities
- Loss of grid control resulting in complete disruption of electricity supply over a wide area can occur as a result of errors or tampering with data communication among control equipment and central ofﬁces.
- Consumer-level problems ranging from incorrect billing to interruption in electric service can be introduced via smart meter tampering.
- Commuting disruptions for electric vehicle operators can occur if recharging stations have been modiﬁed to incorrectly charge batteries.
- Data conﬁdentiality breaches, both personal and corporate, can provide information for identity theft, corporate espionage, physical security threats (for example, through knowing which homes are vacant), and terrorist activities (for example, through knowing which power lines are most important in electric distribution).
– Future of the Electric Grid, MIT Energy Initiative, Dec. 5, 2011
Network infrastructure is inadequate, too
The risk of successful cyberattack keeps growing as utilities roll more intelligence out into their power networks – adding monitoring appliances or management sub-stations to keep better track of small sections of the grid, control the flow of power at times of peak usage, for example.
Less well developed but just as surely on the way are plans by utilities to extent power-management intelligence all the way to the homes of consumers to make power-load-balancing more effective and to take into account the possibility some consumers will actually contribute to the grid power generated by wind turbines, solar cells or other alternative power they build themselves, the report said.
Making a power grid as manageable as an IP network would make the whole thing more reliable and efficient, but would also represent a far larger prize for successful hackers, according to the report – like putting more and more eggs in a basket that's already unguarded in a field full of foxes.
Luckily the networks of most utility companies aren't anywhere near ready for that kind of intelligence.
They're too slow, allow too much interference and most only communicate one way.
The economics of a business built mainly on increasingly expensive fossil fuels will drive utilities to develop intelligence and higher-efficiency management more quickly than they would otherwise, however, the report concluded.
That means Americans will get a far more effective and reliable power network during the next decade, as well as another potential source for broadband network connectivity.