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Securing the Smart Power Grid from Hackers

Securing the Smart Power Grid from Hackers
Securing the Smart Power Grid from Hackers 

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 
Internet: hacking.

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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