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Report highlights smart grid vulnerability, with experts calling situation dire

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Monday, June 20, 2011

The recent spate of cyber security attacks on businesses and government agencies around the world has prompted the Pentagon to pursue a new course of action in its fight against cyber security attacks, according to a published report.

Reuters reports that the Pentagon, which recently said that cyber security attacks could be considered "acts of war" in some instances, has begun an expanded effort to safeguard its contractors from hackers. Sources told the news organization that the military is building a virtual space to test new technologies that could be deployed against critical U.S. infrastructure like the smart grid.

The effort illustrates the Obama administration's ongoing commitment to improving cyber security measures, which some industry watchers contend are too lax and leave critical infrastructure protection (CIP) protocols in the hands of ill-prepared agencies.

In its own investigation, Reuters found that more than 13 years after President Clinton said that protecting critical infrastructure in the U.S. was of the utmost importance, there are huge spaces in smart grid cyber security protocols. In fact, the U.S. power supply network and other critical nodes are still vulnerable to hackers.

Moreover, government officials are increasingly wary about the ability of foreign governments - as well as rogue hackers - to develop computer worms that could potentially take out smart grid infrastructure. The Stuxnet worm, which some analysts believe was developed by the U.S. and Israel to attack Iran's fledgling nuclear program, had spawned a wave of copycats.

One private sector expert affirmed that there are easily accessible digital tool kits available on the Internet that show hackers how to develop similar cyber security infiltration worms. It is of the utmost importance to U.S. officials that such programs be stopped as the Stuxnet was responsible for eliminating more than 20 percent of Iran's computers that monitored certain aspects of its nuclear program.

"We're much better off (technologically) than we were a few years ago, but we have not kept pace with opponents," Center for Strategic and International Studies cyber expert Jim Lewis said. "The network is so deeply flawed that it can't be secured."

Aside from the privacy concerns that result from cyber security breaches, billions of dollars are lost every time a group infiltrates a protected network, analysts assert. Many industry experts are lobbying for additional funding to be put in place that can finance future smart grid security protections. 

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