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Cyberspies and the Electrical Grid

Think the "Conficker" computer worm that scared everyone on April 1 was a big deal? It's a pimple on a gnat compared to information in a front-page article published last week in the Wall Street Journal.  The article announced that cyberspies have penetrated the electrical grid and left software programs at points throughout that could be used to disrupt our electrical distribution system. That has everyone concerned, from Homeland Security to the electrical industry to anyone who relies on electricity to make a living and survive -- which is, at last count, roughly 300 million Americans.

In today's WSJ, columnist Brett Stephens goes into more graphic detail [subscription required]. For example, he says, take a look at a CNN video clip of a simulated cyberattack at the Idaho National Lab. The generator goes up in smoke all too quickly. Stephens says imagine this kind of attack launched simultaneously against utilities and chemical plants across the country. Clearly, this signifies a threat of a whole 'nuther magnitude than we are accustomed to when talking about electricity.

The good news is, not only has our military undoubtedly thought about this (as Stephens implies, if the Chinese and Russians can get into our electrical grids, we can get into theirs), but it's a high priority to FERC and DHS as well. And to NEMA, since the same intelligent systems that can go into our electrical grid to make it more efficient and effective can also be used to make it more secure. 

More problematic is the timing -- some experts in the past have suggested that Smart Grid is a 20- to 30-year national project. Considering the WSJ report and our reliance on the electrical grid, we can probably expect this timetable to be reduced significantly.

Posted 04-14-2009 12:37 PM by Stephen Gold
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