Echelon CEO believes Smart Grid security concerns are overplayed

Ron Sege, CEO of smart metering company Echelon, believes the recent spate of stories about the threat of cyber attack to Smart Grid are being overplayed.

In recent weeks Ex-CIA Director James Woolsey and Joe Loomis, a Senior Research Engineer at the prestigious US Southwest Research Institute have added their voices to the clamour for Smart Grid technology to face up to the threat of attacks on the Smart Grid. Sege, while acknowledging the legitimacy of these fears, believes the commentary at the moment is out of proportion.

Ron Sege

In an interview with Power Engineering International (PEI), Sege said that while the threat is being taken seriously, the Smart Grid’s resilience hadn’t yet been truly tested.

“If you challenge people like that and say tell me where have there been cyber attacks, where the power grid has been disrupted and so on, as far as I know you would be hard pressed to find examples of failures. Whereas on the internet, we can find examples of websites being hacked all the time.

As a practical matter the Smart Grid and the grid in general has proven to be very well protected. Having said that hackers are getting smarter all the time and it is critical infrastructure.”

Legacy technology, called SKADA, for controlling the electric grid is highly centralised and has been around for 75 years. The ageing technology covers large swathes of territory and Sege is under no illusions but that improvements in security must continue to be a priority, even if threats are not nearly as credible as are claimed.

The Echelon Smart Grid system itself is fully distributed so there is no single point of attack. Sege says that it is no easy task to bring down a Smart Grid network.

“If someone were to attack our utility control room our system would still operate.

They would have to attack each substation and distribution transformer to bring it down and that would be hugely difficult. The criminals are always getting smarter so its right to always be vigilant and we have to continue to do so as well.

We can reduce our vulnerability in part by adopting better security algorithms and making the Smart Grid control system more distributed so there is no single point of failure on the system.”

In a wider interview with PEI, the Echelon chief spoke about how austerity is affecting the US company’s traditional European power base, new ventures in China and Brazil and the future of Smart Grid and Echelon.

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