Last summer, the local power company asked permission to attach an exterior power controller to our central air conditioner. We said “yes” and will get a small rebate every fall. During periods of high power demand, the power company can transmit a wireless signal to our controller–and to others–to turn off the air conditioner for as many as 15-minutes each hour. I suppose someone could hack the wireless communications and completely turn off our power, in which case I could simply bypass the controller. For now, the controller box is about as smart as I want to go with power controlled by some remote computer system.
Many people talk about–and have started to adopt–smarter electricity-distributing grids that allow communications between power suppliers, sellers, distributors, and consumers. Although the idea sounds good, I worry about the security of such systems. Dr. Simon Blake-Wilson, a vice president at AuthenTec, one of the companies working on smart-grid security wrote an interesting column, “Choosing the Right Security for the Smart Grid,” available on the AuthenTec Web site: blog.smartsynch.com/smart-grid/choosing-the-right-security-for-the-smart-grid/.
Even though standards exist, I still worry about communication incompatibilities and security flaws inherent in a system of this size. If hackers can already get into existing email and consumer-level systems, what assurances does the power industry offer that these hackers–or foreign military and intelligence people–won’t hack into a smart-grid system? The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a report, “NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 1.0,” that includes some information about security. But Figure 3-2, “Conceptual Reference Diagram for Smart Grid Information Networks” that shows the various communication connections makes me shudder.
Lots of opportunities for security breaches. The small size of the image above makes it difficult to read, so I suggest you download the complete report at: www.nist.gov/public_affairs/releases/upload/smartgrid_interoperability_final.pdf. This document includes a chapter on cyber security.
I hope the many bright people working on smart-grid security develop a workable system. But during my next visits to Lowe’s and Home Depot, I plan to investigate “unintelligent” gasoline-driven generators, just in case they don’t. –Jon Titus