How Washington State University is Protecting the Smart Grid
The past few years have been a successful one for hackers. High profile companies in a variety of industries – financial, retail, healthcare, credit card companies among others experienced breaches. This was costly in respect to financial consequences. It was also devastating from the brand perspective in many cases. For example, companies lost customer loyalties. In some cases, it was downright embarrassing to the victimized companies. Part of this was due to the lack of protecting the smart grid.
However, protecting the electric power system is another level of consequence if the power companies experience an attack. As with all technological advancement, greater vulnerability is the unintended consequence, although not unexpected.
According to the Department of Energy (DOE):
“Smart grid” generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation. These systems are made possible by two-way communication technology and computer processing that has been used for decades in other industries. Electricity networks – from power plants and wind farms all the way to homes and businesses – are beginning to use them. Moreover, they offer many benefits to utilities and consumers – as seen in large improvements in energy efficiency on the electricity grid and in homes and offices.
The “grid” amounts to the networks that carry electricity from the plants where it is generated to consumers. This includes wires, substations, transformers, switches and much more.
A key feature of the smart grid is automation technology; this technology lets the utility adjust millions of devices from a central location.
Washington State University has a team of power engineers, computer scientists and their industry partners all working together to defend against an attack to the power grid. They are protecting the smart grid by combining their expertise and simulating cyber attacks. Continuous learning is important – “Instead of making a system work, they are trying to make a system fail.” They are learning how to detect and contain. Additionally, mitigating damage and regaining control quickly is their definition of success.
With the advancements in technology and the smart grid, the modern day vulnerability is that the “bad guys” now might be able to get to the power grid through the cyber systems.
“A big concern is how to survive big storms like Hurricane Sandy. Turns out some of the techniques you need to survive cyber attacks are the same kinds of technology and processes,” says Anjan Bose, an electrical engineering professor and former dean of the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.
Preparing for a storm is often like preparing for a cyber attack; this is something we have been saying at CyberSponse for a while now. Therefore, protecting the smart grid is one of the most important things you can do.
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