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Cyber security initiatives serve as critical part of Obama's long-term smart grid policy

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The White House released a plan on Monday that outlines how the U.S. will move forward to upgrade the smart grid. One of the major components of the long-term strategy to invest in the smart grid is an emphasis on ensuring smart grid security protocols are in place.

According to a report from Info Security, the White House, along with a myriad of industry analysts, is increasingly worried about the susceptibility of the smart grid to cyber security attacks. The Pentagon said recently that it would consider a cyber security infiltration by another country as an act of war, which only serves to magnify the intense scrutiny already on cyber security experts.

The smart grid has the ability to revolutionize the way that electricity is generated, transmitted and distributed in the U.S. Utilities will be better equipped to identify and quickly patch power supply disruptions, and consumers will be able to better control their home energy use. However, the development of such technologies also leaves the U.S. exposed to cyber security threats.

In his proposal released this week, Obama said that protecting the smart grid from hackers is of the utmost importance to U.S. national security. According to the president's proposal, government agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) will overhaul current cyber security practices as they work to ensure the efficacy of the smart grid moving forward.

Moreover, the president said it would facilitate the development of open cyber security standards and guidelines for the smart grid through public-private partnerships.

Industry watchers have long warned of the aging infrastructure in the U.S., as well as its susceptibility to hackers. Officials have begun to take those warnings seriously as well, as a spate of recent high-profile cyber security hacks have been widely reported on over the past month.

Recently, Southern Co. chief executive Tom Fanning said that the threat of cyber security threats to the U.S. power supply network is significant. With his announcement, Fanning joined a growing chorus of industry experts who are exceedingly concerned about the ability of hackers to infiltrate U.S. critical infrastructure systems.

Obama's smart grid policy concludes that cyber security threats will be assessed, and that moving forward smart grid operators should be prepared to more actively protect their systems from threats.

"A critical part of such an effort is to identify and prioritize relevant cyber risks – including malware, compromised devices, insider threats, and hijacked systems – and develop standards and guidelines that enable the design of effective plans for mitigating those risks," the report states. 

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