As the UK’s energy infrastructure becomes more network-connected and smart meters are adopted in homes, smart gridsare becoming an increasingly viable form of energy infrastructure. Smart grids are energy supply networks that intelligently integrate the actions of all connected users to efficiently deliver sustainable electricity supplies.
Not only do smart grids improve efficiency for energy companies, but they also form part of the European Union’s energy strategy. The EU aims to replace at least 80% of electricity meters with smart meters by 2020, wherever it is cost-effective to do so.
But there remains distinct uncertainty over the security of smart grids and the potential damage that could be caused if they were disrupted. Potential threats against smart grids range from criminals being able to detect when no one is home, through to the possibility of terrorists or extortionists switching off the power.
There have been varied reports regarding the effectiveness of security for smart grids. For example, some experts claim smart grids are at risk of cyber attack, while the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) technical director Ian Levy says: “Components of the smart metering system all interact in planned ways in order to contribute to the overall security of the system.”
Rather than replacing the existing energy network, smart grids build on the existing power grid communication protocols – which already have a number of known vulnerabilities – as well as adding new communications networks to the transmission and distribution grid.
There have been recent incidents where the power supply from a conventional power grid has been interrupted. One of the most recent was when multiple regional distribution power companies in Ukraine were hacked in December 2015, resulting in substations being switched off and tens of thousands of people left without electricity.
Compounding the incident, the attackers also targeted call centres through telephone distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. This meant that not only were customers without electricity, but they were also unable to report their loss of power or find out what was happening.
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