If you build it, they will hack it. That's the message from researchers at the IEEE SmartGridComm2010 conference, who warned that grid hackers could make money or mayhem by going after substations' data. While the dumb grid has many oft-cited problems, adding more digital sensors and controllers to it may make it more vulnerable to attack.
Attackers could manipulate power-grid data by breaking into substations and intercepting communications between substations, grid operators, and electricity suppliers. This data is used by grid operators to set prices for electricity and to balance supply and demand, the researchers say.
Grid hackers could make millions of dollars at the expense of electricity consumers by influencing electricity markets. They could also make the grid unstable, causing blackouts. The attacks would be difficult to trace, according to Le Xie, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Texas A&M University, speaking at the IEEE SmartGridComm2010 conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland, this week.
Vulnerabilities have existed in some grid systems for decades. But the threat is becoming worse as more substations become automated, and unmanned, making it easier for an attacker to access grid data. As utilities move over to open communications standards, as part of the migration to the "smart grid," it could get even easier to intercept communications or hack into systems remotely.