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Hackers have real opportunity to disrupt power grid, report shows

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Friday, June 15, 2012

Cyber attacks could lead to crippling blackouts on the nation's electric grid, as new vulnerabilities could allow hackers to distribute incorrect load data, prompting utilities to unnecessarily curb power, according to a recent report.

The National Association of Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC) recently released its report, which details the weak spots in the U.S. electric network and how they can be best protected. The study focused on three aspects of the power grid that are most susceptible to the vulnerabilities: Information technology, control systems and the smart grid.

The vulnerabilities in each of these areas could leave the system exposed to cyber attacks, which could jeopardize the reliability of the grid and lead to high costs for utilities. According to FuelFix, regulators have been pressing lawmakers to beef up cyber security for years, saying the risks could have devastating consequences. Some of the warnings have even led utilities to opt out of using internet-based systems.

"This isn’t science fiction," Representative Michael McCaul told the Austin American-Statesman earlier in 2012. "This is real."

The report states that the most pressing concern is the possibility that hackers could tamper with load and generation data, which could force utilities to implement costly blackouts. In order to keep data secure, utility officials would need to install secure software and hardware onto their network devices.

"This is a pretty bad scenario, but far from the worst case," the report said. "A dedicated hacker group could accomplish the situation above. A nation-state or well-funded criminal syndicate could theoretically accomplish worse."

The most likely scenario, the report stated, was that hackers could access a utility's network through information technology, SCADA or smart grid systems. Once in, the hacker could change password information to critical assets and systems, enter incorrect data or interrupt other power services.

According to InfoSecurity, the vulnerabilities in the smart grid may be the most urgent. As the grid transitions to a complex and interconnected network, the report said, cyber security must be addressed by both utilities and third-party components that communicate with the grid.

SUBNET's line of products and software were developed to address the exact problems NARUC's report identified. Whether it's securely managing passwords, collecting data from different smart grid devices or complying with NERC CIP regulations, SUBNET products can help utilities operate more efficiently in a secure network. 

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