Cyberattacks against America’s energy infrastructure put public safety and national defense at risk. In response, a proposal before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources suggests a “retro approach” to de-computerize the electrical grid. A.P. “Sakis” Meliopoulos, the Georgia Power Distinguished Professor in the School of Electrical & Computer Engineering and associate director of cyber-physical systems for the Institute for Information Security & Privacy, explains the vulnerabilities, threats and solutions underway.
While much effort has been expended to harden the cybersecurity of America’s power grid, vulnerabilities still remain, coupled with the reality that attackers are becoming more sophisticated and smarter.
Today, the vast majority of America’s power grid is controlled and operated by digital systems. New developments lead to more automation not only for protection, control and operation but also for testing, commissioning and maintenance. This trend will continue because digital systems make it feasible to operate a geographically dispersed, complex physical network with better intelligence.
Yet, one successful cyberattack can dismantle the power grid for months or years. Cyberattacks on the power grid may be malware-spreading campaigns or the more serious and potentially devastating malicious attacks that physically damage major equipment, such as generators and transformers.
I and others at Georgia Tech are working on multiple fronts to nullify cyber threats. We are working to detect flaws in software that run on power grid devices and designing next-generation cyber infrastructure for power grid facilities, such as digital substations where cybersecurity is built into the new systems. We are developing ways to reliably monitor the operating conditions of the physical system in real time and then leverage this information to identify and block intrusions.
Some have asked if pulling computerized components out of the grid will protect our systems from cyberattacks. This approach is unrealistic for many economic and technical reasons. More technology is the answer; not going dark.
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