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"Smart Grid" Potentially Vulnerable to Cyber Attack

With the recent popularity of all things “green” has come the idea that the electrical grid itself, needs a makeover. Given the aged nature of the current grid, and blackouts and brownouts becoming part of the public consciousness, the call for a “smart grid” has grown. You may have even seen television commercials promoting certain companies’ potential utility in achieving this goal. However, according to members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a smart grid would likely pose a far greater security risk than today’s “dumb” grid.

A major part of moving towards a “smart grid” is a move towards open communications standards, which are more vulnerable to attack. With the advent of open communication, hackers can more easily access sensitive data remotely.

Increasing use of automated, unmanned stations creates the very real possibility that hackers could gain control of sensitive data more easily and use this data for personal gain, or to wreak havoc on society. The vulnerable data is used to set electricity prices and balance supply and demand. If a hacker were to gain access to this data, they would be able to manipulate electricity markets in order to make a profit. In addition, the data may be used to destabilize the grid, causing blackouts. This is not, however, an argument for keeping the old, “dumb” grid. Rather, it is a warning to fix potential security flaws in the developing “smart grid.”

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