Seed Funding Enables GridCOM to Advance Cyber Security Technology
For the past couple of years, a variety of high-level federal officials have sounded increasingly urgent alarms about the vulnerabilities of the U.S. power grid to cyber attack.
In October, for example, former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that increasingly aggressive hacker groups had developed the technical expertise and software tools needed to shut down the power grid across large parts of the United States. In February, an American computer security firm said it had found that an overwhelming percentage of cyber attacks on U.S. corporations, organizations, and government agencies were originating from a specialized Chinese Army unit in the outskirts of Shanghai. The hacker group is focused increasingly on companies involved in such critical U.S. infrastructure as gas lines, waterworks, and the electrical power grid.
“The probability of an attack is high, and the potential consequences are dire,” according to Duncan Earl, who says he spent 18 years at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory developing IT security technology to address the rising cyber threats from China, Russia, and Iran. The technology, known “quantum encryption,” uses physics to ensure the security of IT communications used by electric utilities today.
Cyber security has become much more of an imperative since utilities began adding computer systems and wireless smart grid technologies in recent years to improve their operational control of the power grid.
Such IT systems use the standardized Internet data protocols known as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). But Earl says Internet protocols come with a big disadvantage for utilities. Data communications for controlling the power grid over such networks cannot use conventional encryption because computerized commands sent by grid operators must be executed in less than 4 milliseconds—and standard encryption techniques would take too long to read the data.
“We’ve got a vulnerable grid, and there’s no going back,” Earl says. “We need a solution, and we need it quickly.”
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