Infrastructure: New playground for cyber attacks
As renewable energy technology and electricity infrastructure advance,
planners must be cautious.
Man analyzes computer code Photo: Jim Urquhart/Reuters
As innovators attempt to increase energy efficiency and accessibility by
interconnecting utilities and their endpoints to virtual smart grids, consumers
and producers alike will increasingly face the threat of cyber security’s
ultimate intruder – the professional hacker.
Smart grids – electricity
grids that provide real-time digital access to consumption behaviors and optimize
electricity distribution – may create a cleaner environment, increase energy
efficiency and save significant amounts of money, according to industry
professionals. However, these information and communications technology (ICT)
systems also open up a region’s – or country’s – utilities to the malicious
efforts of those looking to penetrate such a system.
smart grids, smart cities and solutions for potentially grave cyber security
threats in several sessions last week during the three-day Eilat-Eilot Fifth
International Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition.
grids off the ground is now becoming critical in order to manage all of the
renewable energy programs in development throughout the world, said Per-Olof
Granstrom, secretarygeneral of the Brussels-based European Distribution System
Operators for Smart Grids.
By launching smart grids, both producers and
consumers will be able to have open data interfaces and storage mechanisms that
they can manage easily, he explained.
“We have so much renewable energy
distributed,” Granstrom said. “We really need something to take care of
In what could be described as a microcosm of smart grids, smart
metering – electricity metering that communicates with customers digitally – is
beginning to roll out all over the European Union, according to
In India, the country with the fourth-largest power system in
the world, energy professionals are working to get smart grids declared as a
national mission, said Reji Kumar Pillai, president of the India Smart Grid
Forum. Deploying smart grids throughout the country will also be a mode of
leveraging new technologies that can serve to power that grid with clean energy,
At a global level, the concept of smart grids has become a
powerful agent of environmental policy because they can enable reliable
integration of electricity sources as well as increase energy efficiency, added
Paddy Turnbull, chairman of the Global Smart Grid Federation and growth strategy
leader for GE Digital Energy.
Implementing smart grids will also create a
wealth of new jobs and bring economic growth to many countries around the world,
“We’re facing an unprecedented scope of change,” he
Daniel Jammer, chairman of the Nation-E energy storage firm, is
aiming to make his energy storage technology and communication system an
integral part of this change – and has already formed partnerships to pilot his
technology in the Netanya Municipality and with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
Jammer’s lithium-ion battery storage system aims to allow individuals to produce
renewable energy on-site and to store the unused surplus, with the possibility
of using the electricity themselves or selling it back to the grid.
ICT system ideally integrated with a larger smart grid would allow the storage
battery to communicate with the grid and with any other batteries operating on
the same network, in order to see where electricity is needed and when,
“The energy world is basically on the way to getting
revolutionized,” he said. “You need to have very precise technology to conquer
the world today.”
Employing renewables is the right direction, but thus
far people have largely taken “the wrong approach” and have failed to plan their
electricity networks in a holistic, easily monitored and efficient fashion,
Jammer said. At this point, in many cities, if the electricity system was to
fail for more than 24 hours, the water supply would fall prey to contamination
and there would be a wide range of other disastrous effects.
of whether the right approach has been taken toward managing renewables thus
far, in terms of energy efficiency and conservation, experts see a reason for
“Our economies are growing but we’re using less electricity,”
said Prof. Ray Wills of Duda & Wills Consulting, who also serves as chief
adviser at the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia.
In 2000 and
2001 across the globe, sweeping changes in energy efficiency policy began;
electricity consumption globally peaked in the year 2007, according to
“Electricity demand is falling also because the appliances we are
using for the first time in electricity consumption are using less electricity
than those that we’ve replaced them with,” he said.
An iPad 3, for
example, uses much less electricity than a laptop, which uses much less than a
desktop – facts that Wills said make him optimistic about ongoing changes. Even
the United States military troop carriers are beginning to use diesel-electric
hybrid models, he added.
“The US Defense Department is the single largest
user of energy in the world,” he said, noting that the department consumes $25
billion worth of energy per year. “The largest purchasers of electricity in the
world are saying, ‘We want energy-efficient appliances.’” These new behavioral
patterns, this turn to efficient, green ways of thinking – “all of this has to
impact the way we design our cities,” he stressed.
Broadening the sense
of smart grids are smart cities, a broadly defined term that describes cities
with “smart” environmental policies and energy infrastructure combined with
advanced information and communication technology.
Integral to creating
smart cities is the ability to interconnect data systems and elaborate on this
information in order to improve quality of life, explained Dani Schaumann of the
Intesa Sanpaolo Bank in Italy.
A number of Italian cities are already
implementing ideas that could become segments of future smart cities, he said.
In Milan, a dismissed area is being redeveloped into an experimental platform to
introduce smart city concepts to the population, while the city Udine has
created a virtual platform for communicating with the municipality on various
issues. Florence now features interactive bus stops, and the city of Parma
employs pedestrian crosswalks that are illuminated when a person crosses the
street at night, said Schaumann.
Milan is already planning to host a
Milano Expo 2015, which will feature the digital smart city from all angles of
communication, environmental protection and sustainability, he
While not quite a smart city yet, the city of Akron, Ohio, takes
pains to remain energy-efficient and even creates a “green-print” of every bit
of property under its jurisdiction, according to Mayor Donald Plusquellic, who
has been leading the 300,000-resident city for 26 years.
“I didn’t see a
city that is so open to implement innovation based on the public
infrastructure,” said Booky Oren, CEO of Global Water Technologies and the chair
of the “Future of Smart Cities” session. “I think that’s the beginning of smart
Akron continues to seek all new types of technologies to add to
its “working laboratories” in hopes of helping develop better cities,
Plusquellic said. The city is currently developing a water technology for
medium-sized cities in conjunction with the city of Netanya, and also has the
number one green transportation system in the state of Ohio, according to the
“We have to be smart to be competitive and to be able to provide
the best services to our citizens,” Plusquellic said.
A smart city will
likewise be able to prevent and avoid blackouts, such as those that threatened
many areas in New York for up to two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, explained
Amichai Ben-Horin of the New York-based Constellation Energy, which handles
energy demand-response issues. As a result of blackouts, businesses, financial
centers and all types of services shut down for days, causing significant
“We are all familiar with forced blackouts; we are familiar with
the ones that are caused by a snowstorm or failures,” said Horin. “It’s a pain –
and that pain can be avoided.”
End users and power utilities need to be
able to be in much more constant communication, he stressed.
users and their electricity companies are in real-time, transparent
communication, however, they open themselves up to a dangerous world of Internet
hackers, experts warn.
“There are a lot of threats on infrastructure
systems and energy systems, and this has been clearly stated by the road map of
the Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Energy,” said Dr.
Eitan Yudilevich, executive director of the Binational Industrial Research and
Development (BIRD) Foundation, a collaborative fund between the US Department of
Energy and the Israeli Energy and Water Ministry.
While such attacks seem
to undermine only the virtual world, in reality they “can be potentially
damaging to physical structures” as well, said Yudilevich. If websites are
already becoming targets of cyber terror attacks, more serious infrastructural
targets could pose a much greater risk, he explained.
“The smart grid
will bring that risk to our home,” said Nimrod Luria, chief technology officer
Today, the electricity grid is very closed and difficult to
penetrate. However, when digital smart grids become available and popularized,
there will be an instant entry point to multiple networks – and not only for
those who wish to innocently monitor their electricity use, Luria warned. In a
PowerPoint presentation, he pointed to a slide showing a list of at least 60
different entry points that could become targets for attackers of a smart
“It’s not a new technology – it’s a new economy,” he said. “Hackers
like new economies.”
The cyber attackers can build new exploits and
malwares (malicious software) to potentially help them pay less for power
supplies, and it will still be many years until the global electricity industry
is prepared to deal with such threats, according to Luria.
Not only will
communication occur from control center to field site in smart grids, but
peer-to-peer interactions will also occur among the field sites, making the
communications management all the more complicated, added Ilan Barda, CEO of ICT
group RADiFlow. His company is currently working on a smart grid pilot
application for a utility in Spain, implementing and testing various encryption
mechanisms and firewalls, he explained.
“We are also going to have a
network which is going to control and build and affect every single device on
this network in parallel to the electricity system,” said Yuval Shchory, who
works in security solutions at Cisco.
In a smart grid, even a power
outlet in a residential home will act as a network device that can talk to the
local electricity company, Shchory explained.
“Technology is playing a
major role here because it’s not only the electricity technology; it’s the
Internet Protocol (IP) technology,” he said. “You’re going to have a network
that talks back and forth with everything on the network.”
this network will be a lot of money, available digitally.
“We don’t just
deal with hackers whose hobby it is to take down networks. It’s a professional,
a real profession,” he said.
What is perhaps even more terrifying to
those planning smart grids than those interested in stealing money by hacking
through the networks, are those interested in generating terror through their
“It’s not just a hacker – it can be states,” said Boaz
Landsberger, head of security at Israel Electric Corporation.
crime organizations to competitors to hostile countries may be interested in
penetrating these networks, which may have billions of end points and sensitive
privacy components, he explained. Experts must continue to develop efficient
monitoring systems that will be able to know how the network and its end points
look when they behave normally, as well as catch any deviations from this norm,
Itzik Ben-Israel, director of the National Council for
Research and Development, stressed that due to Israel’s very sensitive security
situation and its existence as an energy island, smart grids may at the moment
be more practical for a place like Europe.
There, electricity can
potentially flow through and be shared by many contiguous countries that will be
inherently less vulnerable because of their cooperative neighborhood, he
“If we were not an island and we could have a smart grid, this
could increase, in a way, our immunity, our resilience to attacks like this. But
this is not realistic in the current situation,” Ben-Israel
said. “Therefore, we should do whatever we can do to protect our power