Government Technology

Smart Grid Security, Ground Zero for Cyber Security

Vint Cerf

June 2, 2010 By

"One of things incumbent on all of us is to introduce strong authentication into the fabric of the smart grid. We did not do that with the Internet." Vint Cerf (pictured) Photo by Terence Brown. Story reprinted with permission of MuniWireless.

It was pretty amazing to see the amount of people involved in Conductivity Week in Santa Clara California last week. They were all there positioning their expertise on how to build and secure the smart grid.  With NIST, WiFi Alliance, Zigbee Alliance, and the IEEE and hundreds of vendors and speakers attending, it was like a wireless IP Mecca of intellectuals all contributing to this global energy network requirement.


The Godfather of the Internet, Vint Cerf, opened the meeting and ended his keynote speech with a daunting announcement, "One of things incumbent on all of us is to introduce strong authentication into the fabric of the smart grid," Cerf said. "We did not do that with the Internet.

"My excuse is public key cryptography [was] not even publically written about until 1977 which is just about when TCP/IP was getting standardized, Cerf said."But today we don't want devices to respond to control from something that's not authenticated."


So what is the smart grid anyway?  Wikipedia defines it rather well: "A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital technology to control appliances at consumers' homes to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability and transparency. It overlays the electricity distribution grid with an information and net metering system." With this definition, why is the smart grid such a security issue?

We need to first look at how our power grid operates today.  Power distribution and monitoring today is in its initial stages of becoming a smart grid with some substation network intelligence often connected by microwave, power line and/or fiber-optic point-to-points.  Although these core network infrastructures are very basic, they may prove useful in operating the needed private IP backbone of the smart grid.  These network backbones were not meant to securely connect two-way digital connections from every home, every building every factory and every energy-using appliance throughout the power companies service area.  In fact, adding millions of these connections to the power grid distribution system is no easy task in network or network security. 


Power companies are in the precarious position of having to do something now while preparing for the future. In my earlier article, grid security firms and even past cyber-security czars clearly explained today's power grid vulnerabilities.  With $3.375 billion kicked in by the federal government and even more funds added by power and utility companies, they need to produce now but only if a smart grid security plan can be demonstrated.  This leaves the power companies in a tough position of needing to do something today while being prepared to migrate smart grid security platforms to newer standards.  The bottom line is there is no hurry up and wait when it comes to deploying and securing smart grid networks.  There is only hurry up and be prepared to hurry up again.

So what were are the security problems and how can they be immediately addressed? The smart grid network, smart grid operating center and back office are pretty much secure.  The problem is when you start connecting smart-grid devices to homes, business building and factories.  You now have opened up the potential of accessing the smart-grid distribution network though millions of smart-grid end user access points.  This network

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