The growing need for smart grid security

Apr 25, 2016, 3:46 PM EDT
Pylon. (Source: Lennart Tange/flickr)
Pylon. (Source: Lennart Tange/flickr)

While concerns over global cyber security run far and wide across the gamut of the tech world, a sector that is largely undiscussed is the smart grid. The security of a smart grid is crucial to the security of whole urban systems, often ones that have impacts on regions outside city centers. And as the smart grid data analytics market is set to build out significantly over the next decade, it’s worth looking at the potential for cyber attacks and how to prevent them to ensure the uptime of whole regional electrical grids.

Smart grid data analytics refers to analyzing huge volumes of data generated from the smart grid network. As smart grid build-out increases around the world, the ability to analyze the data from the grids increases as well, including the ability to analyze consumer behavior, energy consumption, and other components. Credence Research recently published figures that show that the global smart grid data analytics market was valued at $1,453.9 million in 2014 and is estimated to expand with a compound annual growth rate of 15.9% from 2015 to 2022.

These figures mean that more smart grids will be providing more data for utility providers, and other municipal departments that can use the information to improve city structure and operation. (See more expertise from Blouin News about how cities can use data here.) But more data always means more opportunities for hackers to access that data, and there is a renewed focus on the vulnerability of smart grids aimed at safeguarding them before damage can be done.

Earlier this year, the U.S. blamed Russia for a power grid attack in the Ukraine that occurred on December 23, 2015, but other countries and local regions have suffered grid attacks as well. After the Ukraine attack, reports continued to surface detailing how the U.S.’s power grid is vulnerable to cyber attacks. In early April, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a nationwide campaign to educate electrical power infrastructure companies. Last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act which included updates that allow for greater protection of the U.S. power grid. A summary of the bill read

"The Federal Power Act is amended with respect to cybersecurity threats, and requirements are prescribed for enhanced electric grid security as well as bulk-power system reliability."

The large-scale addressing of the vulnerability of these power grids reflects the smaller scale, yet equally as important, vulnerabilities in smaller, local smart grids. Individual cities have been upgrading their infrastructures to create more efficient electrical frameworks, better understand traffic conditions, etc. With centralized networks like those, hackers could launch city-wide shutdowns of power. It’s time for the smart grid to get smart about security, too.

Read more here from Blouin News on how cities use data to improve operations. Watch a panel of experts discuss cyber security during the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit here.