Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Will Smart Grid Be a Safe Grid?

With news of the nation's electricity grid being hacked and riddled with viruses that unleash serious damage at any time, people are already asking the question of what this means for smart grid.

Smart grid technology is commonly thought to resemble something like the Internet, but now it seems likely that more people will begin to advocate for a more secure, proprietary system.

While that might quiet some of the concern over cyber sabotage, no system is wholly immune to innovative hackers. Furthermore, a proprietary architecture would no doubt wrankle the spear-throwing-chorus of corporate detractors who see hidden, monopolistic profit motives behind any proprietary arrangement, thereby creating a whole new political headache.

The Wall Street Journal's "Environmenal Capital" blog takes up the question:

"The big question is whether the move to a smart grid would increase the country’s vulnerability to such attacks, or serve as the best form of defense.

The Center for American Progress, in its latest study on the electricity transmission system, said the smart grid was the solution—not the problem—because it would represent the chance to finally upgrade vulnerable old, jury-rigged technology currently cobbled together in the electric grid. Greater regulation and government oversight could also push through costlier but more effective security technologies that might otherwise not pass muster with the market, the report said.

Maybe so—but that still leaves open the question of how the new smart grid should be designed. Should it have open standards, like the Internet Protocol, understood by everyone from hackers to software developers? Or should the smart grid rely on a closed, closely-held, standard specially-created by companies building smart grid gear? "