Expert Testimony on Smart Meters/Grid: “Retain analog systems to the extent possible.”

by K.T. Weaver, SkyVision Solutions

Cynthia Ayers is a national security threat analyst, currently working as an independent consultant within the Mission Control and Cyber Division of the Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College.  She is also serving as Deputy to the Executive Director of the Congressionally sponsored Task Force on National and Homeland Security.

On March 7, 2017, Ayers presented testimony before the Michigan House Committee on Energy Policy.  Her testimony included an analysis of how smart meters introduce safety and security threats to the electric grid and to civilization itself.  Excerpts from the written testimony [1] include the following:

“My testimony will concentrate on the possibility of a catastrophic cyber attack to the systems we depend on for the delivery of electricity – the lifeblood of our modern civilization. …

As our electric grid becomes ‘smarter’ and more networked, it also becomes more vulnerable, making it a very inviting – perhaps the most inviting – target for adversaries.  Threats specific to smart grid technology range from the tactical (e.g., house-to-house, building to building) to the national strategic level.  As with cyber activities world-wide, operational attacks against small, inconspicuous elements (smart meters, for example) could ultimately have a much larger, truly catastrophic impact to the grid and to the society it sustains.

Although security can always be improved, all networks, all systems – virtually anything computerized – can be hacked.  As systems become more highly networked, it becomes easier for attackers to locate ‘backdoors’.  Multiple ‘smart’ appliances and other home or business devices are being developed and sold on the market, with the assumption that IoT (Internet of Things) networking and metering will soon be (if not already) commonly available.

Demand for full optimization of smart meters will ultimately rule out limited, billing-only usage (e.g., Meter to Cash or M2C).  The number of gaps in security will multiply per person, per household; and a successful ingress of any ‘backdoor’ could have detrimental effects on neighbors, communities, regions, states, the nation and beyond (e.g. Canada and Mexico).  Passive cyber defenses will be of prime importance, yet ubiquitous usage of components will only serve to increase gaps in security, regardless of the options given to consumers.

Smart meters can provide digital backdoors to facilities (e.g. the home, office, building, etc.) via the items within (e.g. televisions, refrigerators, thermostats, etc.).  They can also allow access to multiple components of external electric infrastructure.  Therefore, the use of smart meters must be carefully evaluated in the context of threats to personal safety as well as the safety of the grid. …

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