Making the electricity grid greener is boosting its vulnerability to computer hacking, increasing the risk that spies or criminals can cause blackouts.
Adding wind farms, solar panels and smart meters to the power distribution system opens additional portals through which hackers can attack the grid, according to computer security experts advising governments and utilities. Where traditionally the grid took power from a few sources, it’s now absorbing it from thousands.
The communication networks and software that link green energy sources to the grid as well as the electronic meters that send real time power usage to consumers and utilities are providing new back-door entry paths for computer hackers to raise havoc with the grid. The disclosure this week that hackers known as “Dragonfly” and “Energetic Bear” gained access to power networks across the U.S. and Europe in the past 15 months is a reminder of how vulnerable the system has become.
“Attacks against the grid have moved from theory to reality,” said Raj Samani, chief technology officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa, at McAfee Inc., a unit of Intel Corp. (INTC) that’s one of the biggest security software providers.
Utilities, already grappling with other challenges to the grid, may spend what may run into the billions of dollars for computer security. A new multitude of energy inputs is forcing grid managers to run systems that communicate real-time data on power flows to consumers and power plants, bringing networks that were previously closely controlled into contact with computer and telecommunication systems used by millions.
“There have been documented attacks, both cyber and physical on the electric grid which resulted in equipment damage, service disruption and long term repair,” said Sean McGurk, global manager for critical infrastructure protection at Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), the largest U.S. wireless carrier.