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Better cyber security needed as electric grid expands: MIT report

Better cyber security needed as electric grid expands: MIT report

The future characteristics of the U.S. electric grid make it especially important to develop plans for improved cyber security, says a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“With rapidly expanding connectivity and rapidly evolving threats, making the grid invulnerable to cyber events is impossible, and improving resilience to attacks and reducing the impact of attacks are important,” says the report, “Future of the Electric Grid.”

Cyber security “must encompass not only the protection of information but also the security of grid equipment that depends on or is controlled by that information. And its goals must include ensuring the continuous and reliable operation of the electric grid,” according to the report that was released Monday.

Changes in vulnerabilities, attack types

The report said as the nation's more than 6 million mile electric grid evolves, “vulnerabilities and attack types will change quickly just as modern computer viruses do. Anticipating the possible impacts of attacks and focusing on resilient and robust responses can mitigate the negative effects more efficiently than attempting to defend against every new type of attack.”

Discussing cyber security vulnerabilities, the report said such risks “can arise from weaknesses in personnel, processes, technology and the physical environment.”

“Security issues occur because of actions taken by outside hackers and attackers and also by disgruntled employees,” says the report. “With their insider knowledge, these individuals may instigate significant damage.”

The report also says, “Rigorous testing of individual system components, complemented by integrated systems testing, can help mitigate cyber security risks and develop better system responses when vulnerabilities are breached.”

“More rigorous procedures with regard to security testing might have reduced damaged caused by the Stuxnet worm,” says the report.

The MIT analysis said there is “no national regulatory oversight of cyber security standards compliance for the distribution system.”

Information privacy, security

Also discussed in the report is information privacy and security with respect to operational and electricity consumption data.

The cyber security issues are part of a larger report that takes an overall look at the electric grid and the opportunities and challenges it presents.