Grid securityIndustry insiders: insufficient security controls for smart meters

Published 10 April 2012

False data injection attacks exploit the configuration of power grids by introducing arbitrary errors into state variables while bypassing existing techniques for bad measurement detection; experts say current generation of smart meters are not secure enough against false data injection attacks

nCircle the other day announced the results of a survey of 104 energy security professionals. The survey was sponsored by nCircle and EnergySec, a DOE-funded public-private partnership that works to enhance the cyber security of the electric infrastructure. The online survey was conducted between 12 March and 31 March 2012.

When asked, “Do smart meter installations have sufficient security controls to protect against false data injection?” 61 percent said “no.”

Power grids connect electricity producers to consumers through interconnected transmission and distribution networks. In these networks, system monitoring is necessary to ensure reliable power grid operation. The analysis of smart meter measurements and power system models that estimate the state of the power grid are a routine part of system monitoring. An nCircle release notes that false data injection attacks exploit the configuration of power grids by introducing arbitrary errors into state variables while bypassing existing techniques for bad measurement detection.

Patrick Miller, the founder, CEO, and president of EnergySec noted, “Smart meters vary widely in capability and many older meters were not designed to adequately protect against false data injection. It doesn’t help that some communication protocols used by the smart meter infrastructure don’t offer much protection against false data injection either. Together, these facts highlight a much larger potential problem with data integrity across the smart grid infrastructure. Because our nation relies on the smart grid to deliver robust and reliable power, we need to make sure that all systems that process usage data, especially those that make autonomous, self-correcting, self-healing decisions, assure data integrity.”

Elizabeth Ireland, vice president of marketing for nCircle, noted, “A false data injection attack is an example of technology advancing faster than security controls. This is a problem that has been endemic in the evolution of security and it’s a key reason for the significant cyber security risks we face across many facets of critical infrastructure. Installing technology without sufficient security controls presents serious risks to our power infrastructure and to every power user in the U.S.”

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