By Katie Fehrenbacher
March 23, 2009
Imagine if the havoc caused by Internet viruses and worms - downed web
sites, snatched credit card data, and so forth - were unleashed on the
power grid's critical infrastructure. The results could include targeted
blackouts, tampering with power generation (including nuclear plants),
or the use of energy consumption data for malicious intent. For while a
smart power grid, which leverages information technology to add more
intelligence to the electricity network, will give consumers and
utilities more control over energy consumption, the transformation from
analog to digital will bring to the grid a threat that plagues the
According to a report in the National Journal last year, hackers in
China may have already used what little infotech intelligence there is
on the current power grid to cause two major U.S. blackouts. So with a
smart grid moving to become reality, utilities and federal regulators
are trying to ready themselves for potential dangers. As representatives
from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said at a smart grid
policy meeting last week, maintaining security is the highest priority.
Why is a smarter power grid so vulnerable? Joe Fagan, an attorney for
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who has spent his career representing
the energy industry, including extensive work with FERC, explained that
transforming the power grid's largely one-way distribution network into
a two-way system delivers many more points of contact with the network.
And if the power grid is to be run by networks based on Internet
Protocol, hackers have spent years developing the tools needed to take
such networks down.
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