Report: A Smart Grid Is a Hackable Grid

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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.

Via Jason Pontin, read the full story at Technology Review.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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