Security Experts Discuss Smart Grid Protection


Researchers will highlight some of the threats and concerns facing plans to deploy smart grid technology – and what can be done about them

Two security researchers are calling for the utility industry to pay close attention to securing smart grid technology as the nation upgrades its power infrastructure.

In separate presentations next week at the Black Hat security conference, researchers Mike Davis and Tony Flick will be making the case that the energy industry has work to do when it comes to security.

“A lot of the security issues that are popping up are kind of frightening, and we’re sort of pushing the idea of more security review, more generalized security engineering… reviews, source code audits, the whole sort of works has to apply to these meters as well as they apply to everything else,” said Davis, senior security consultant at IOActive.

The calls for better security come three months after reports surfaced of attackers targeting the U.S. power grid. In his presentation, Davis plans to identify vulnerabilities he and a team of IOActive researchers uncovered on smart meter platforms.

“Generally the smart grid wouldn’t have much to do with security just as a stupid sensor network,” Davis said. “The problem is a lot of these companies are putting a lot of effort into adding a bunch of sort of whiz bang features that they believe the various utilities are going to want. For example, the thing that sort of alarms us the most is that they’re adding relays to a lot of these smart meters – basically the ability for the meter itself to turn itself on and off based on a remote command from central office.”

“The sort of idea that they’re (pursuing) this with is that if customers don’t pay their bills, they can disconnect them and then when they do pay their bill they can reconnect them immediately, nobody has to wait… that now means these meters have an extremely high value as a target,” he added.

Like Davis, Flick contends more security needs to be built into smart grid initiatives and technology. Using the city of Miami’s plans to roll out a citywide smart grid infrastructure by 2011 as an entry point, he plans to discuss the development of standards for securing smart grid technology.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has already released a three-phase plan for developing standards for the technology, but Flick predicts the standards will face some of the same security concerns surrounding PCI- DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) – particularly if organisations are left to police themselves. In the end, security needs to be built into smart grid projects from start to finish, he added.

Both Flick and Davis are scheduled to give their talks on 30 July. For additional information about the conference, visit the Black Hat Web site.