Cybersecurity: Plugging smart grid weaknesses

Jun 05, 2013
Cybersecurity: Plugging smart grid weaknesses
New protocols are needed in the smart grid security framework to protect the privacy of individuals charging electric vehicles. Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Power companies are increasingly upgrading to smart grids—national or state-based intelligent computer systems that collect information from consumers and suppliers in order to automatically improve the grid's efficiency and reliability. The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the United States has produced a set of cybersecurity guidelines, called NISTIR 7628, for smart grid programmers across the globe. However, Aldar Chan and Jianying Zhou at the A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research in Singapore point out that, although the guidelines are comprehensive, they lack standardized instructions for scenarios that may arise with new technologies such as electric vehicles. Chan and Zhou have also identified two key weaknesses within NISTIR 7628.

When people plug in and charge , the bridge the '' and the real world. "If there is no binding of identities between the cyber and physical domains, how can we be sure the information provided by the smart grid accurately reflects what is happening in the real world?" asks Chan. "We have little knowledge about cross-domain vulnerabilities, not to mention security mechanisms to withstand coordinated cyber–physical attacks."

Chan and Zhou examined the NISTIR 7628 framework using the scenario of a person charging an electric vehicle on a grid. This framework is designed to provide a very because as well as requiring a user login to pay for electricity, the car itself also needs device authentication when plugged in. In this way, a car reported as stolen would be barred from charging. Nevertheless, there may be ways of altering plug-in systems that would allow stolen vehicles to charge.

"NISTIR 7628 seems to separate cybersecurity from physical security without proper guidelines on how the two should be blended under this scenario," explains Chan. "These gaps could mean the system is open to a coordinated cyber–physical attack."

Chan and Zhou also examined the data that the smart grid system would hold. These include personal and banking details, and the physical location of the vehicle and how long it had been there—the perfect combination for criminals to exploit.

"NISTIR 7628 takes a utility company-centric perspective here," explains Chan. "Although there is caution about consumer privacy issues involving smart meters, little attention is paid to driver privacy."

Chan and Zhou are keen to improve the NISTIR 7628 framework: "We are developing a cyber–physical authentication protocol to strengthen login security, and a protocol to balance accountability and privacy regarding the location data the smart grid can hold on individuals."

Explore further: Twitter: Govt. requests for user data increased

More information: Chan, A. and Zhou, J. On smart grid cybersecurity standardization: Issues of designing with NISTIR 7628. IEEE Communications Magazine 51, 58–65 (2013). ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articl… jsp?arnumber=6400439

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Florida electric utility completes smartgrid installations

May 05, 2013

(Phys.org) —Florida Power & Lighting has completed its $800 million smart grid upgrade, with installations of 4.5 million smart meters. Smart meters are digital devices that use radio frequencies to communicate ...

NIST releases final Smart Grid 'Framework 2.0' document

Feb 29, 2012

An updated roadmap for the Smart Grid is now available from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which recently finished reviewing and incorporating public comments into the NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 2.0. ...

NIST releases update to smart grid framework

Oct 26, 2011

An expanded list of standards, new cybersecurity guidance and product testing proposals are among the new elements in an updated roadmap for Smart Grid interoperability released today for public comment by the National Institute ...

Recommended for you

US warns retailers on data-stealing malware

6 hours ago

US government cybersecurity watchdogs warned retailers Thursday about malware being circulated that allows hackers to get into computer networks and steal customer data.

Irish bookmaker apologizes for 2010 data breach

6 hours ago

(AP)—Irish betting company Paddy Power announced Thursday it is notifying hundreds of thousands of customers that most of their profile information was stolen in 2010, but hackers did not gain their credit card details ...

Misinformation diffusing online

9 hours ago

The spread of misinformation through online social networks is becoming an increasingly worrying problem. Researchers in India have now modeled how such fictions and diffuse through those networks. They described details ...

User comments : 0