Researchers at Michigan Technical University (MTU) are calling for standard metrics to measure the health of smart grid power networks in order to improve cyber security. Smart meters, management systems for distributed energy resources like wind and solar production, along with instrumentation systems in power plants, substations or control centers create open doors for hackers. The MTU researchers looked at “nightmare” scenarios where hackers are able to create disruptive cyber attacks.
“Ten years ago, cyber security simply didn’t exist, it wasn’t talked about and it wasn’t a problem,” said Chee-Wooi Ten, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Now hackers can plan for a cyber attack that can cause larger power outages and people are starting to grasp the severity of the problem.”
Hackers target specific parts of the control network of power infrastructure and they focus on the mechanisms that control it. Automated systems control much of the grid from generation to transmission to use which streamlines the automation process, but without solid security measures, it also makes the systems vulnerable. The interconnectedness of the grid can also cause cascading impacts leading to blackouts, equipment failure and islanding where regions become cut off and isolated from the main power grid. A better understanding of the system’s weaknesses makes it easier to protect the grid, and improving regulations with specifics to match infrastructure needs and providing cyber security insurance are needed.
“Simply because the remote substation networks are constantly commissioned with full compliance doesn’t mean they are secure,” Professor Ten said. “There is going to be a tremendous impact if we’re negligent and fail to keep up with changes in communication infrastructure and emerging security threats.”