Major concern over smart grid security

Newly allocated funds for the smart grid have resulted in new technologies being distributed across the U.S., but smart grid security remains a major area of concern for security experts.


The American economic stimulus package allocated $4.5 billion for an upgraded electricity delivery system. The funding for new smart grid technologies has resulted in several million networked meters being distributed in the United States.

The vision of the smart grid promises to combine the power of distributed computing with highly fault-tolerant data communications to deliver real-time distribution of power. Within this infrastructure, smart meters represent an important piece of the end-point distribution segment of the smart grid.

However, critics of the new system say that the new system presents major security problems. Mike Davis, a senior security consultant at IOActive-a research company based in Seattle-gave a presentation at the 2009 Black Hat Briefings on a proof-of-concept cyber attack that could potentially allow an attacker to shut off large numbers of meters remotely. Davis and a team of IOActive researchers developed proof-of-concept malicious code that self-propagated in a peer-to-peer fashion from one meter to the next.

Highlights from Davis' presentation are below:

A. Attacking Memory

To hack into a smart meter through hardware, an attacker first needs to determine the programming that runs it, says Travis Goodspeed, an independent security researcher who specializes in wireless sensor networks. If the meter hasn't been built with protective features, a hacker can use syringes to insert a needle into each side of the device's memory chip. The needle serves as a probe to intercept the electrical signals in the memory chip. By analyzing these signals, the hacker can deduce the device's programming. Even if the meter includes security features, he says, it may be possible to extract the information using customized tools.

B. Digital Radio

The smart meter's two-way radio chip allows the device to be read remotely and to receive commands over the network. The software in the chip contains security codes that an attacker who's cracked the meter's programming can use to get on the network and begin issuing commands. Goodspeed has shown that the codes can be extracted using syringes in a process similar to the attack on the memory.

C. Accessing the Meter

One way to hack into a smart meter is through its wireless networking device, says David Baker, IOActive's director of services. An attacker can use a software radio, which can be programmed to emulate a variety of communications devices, to listen in on wireless communications with the network and deduce over time how to communicate with the meters. Another method, Baker says, is to attack the hardware. An attacker could steal a meter from the side of a house and reverse-engineer it. This method, he says, while inexpensive, does require a good knowledge of integrated circuits.

D. Spreading Malware to the Network

With access to one smart meter's programming and codes, Baker says, someone can communicate with all the meters of the same brand that are connected to the network. To demonstrate his attack, Davis crafted a piece of malware that could self-replicate to other meters, allowing an attacker to shut them down remotely. In simulations, Davis showed that if his worm were released in an area where all the houses were equipped with the same brand of meter, the worm could spread to 15,000 homes in the space of 24 hours.

E. Measuring Electrical Usage


At the heart of a smart meter are the sensors that measure energy usage. Unscrupulous individuals have long tried to save money on their electric bills by interfering with a meter's ability to accurately report how much energy has been consumed. That type of fraud may still be possible on a smart meter, though many of the devices are designed to protect against the mechanical methods traditionally used.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.