The internet of things, as the ultimate version of the smart grid is often described, could bring with it one of the downsides of...

The internet of things, as the ultimate version of the smart grid is often described, could bring with it one of the downsides of today’s internet: hacker attacks.

The widening deployment of smart electricity meters has already raised concerns about security — ie, the possibility that someone with bad intent and networking know-how could tap into the metering infrastructure and determine, for example, when a household is typically unoccupied and easier to break into. However, metering companies like Echelon and Itron assert their technology comes with solid security protection, and there have been no notable reports of metering data being used for ill by unauthorized sources.

But security concerns can’t be brushed off … especially not as our energy systems become ever more connected and internet-like. What’s more, it’s not just the would-be hacker/burglar looking to see who in the neighborhood is out of town that we need to think about: it’s shadowy organizations, and maybe even other countries, that could reap even more “value” from accessing tomorrow’s smart grid.

Security measures aimed at the random intruder aren’t necessarily enough to prevent the types of attacks that, say, the US Department of Defense’s computers are subjected to on a daily basis, or the one that recently put Lockheed Martin’s internal network at risk. The more connected our systems become, the more opportunities there will be for someone to exploit the various parts of it … as researchers studying the vulnerabilities of on-board computers in cars have already discovered.

As a Guardian article on the Stuxnet virus attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities notes, the capabilities of cyber-weapons have reached a “chilling new level.”

These worries aren’t an argument against the smart grid any more than concerns about hacking are a reason to stop using the internet. However, they do make it clear that a next-generation energy infrastructure, while solving one set of problems, will bring with it a whole new set of other ones. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the price of greater energy freedom will be eternal vigilance.

Greenbang

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