Book chapter: Addressing smart grid security issues

In this chapter excerpt from Securing the Smart Grid, authors Tony Flick and Justin Morehouse address smart grid security issues, such as service fraud and sensor data manipulation.

In Securing the Smart Grid, authors Tony Flick and Justin Morehouse address smart grid security issues, which may

be an area of concern to solution providers who number utility companies among their customers. The book also covers smart grid security standards, NERC compliance, smart meters, service fraud, sensor data manipulation and security targets. The following excerpt comes from Chapter 3: Threats and Impacts: Utility Companies and Beyond (pdf).

Net metering
The most profitable threat for consumers as a result of smart meter tampering is manipulation of net metering data. Net metering allows consumers to provide the utility companies with power generated by the consumer utilizing technologies, including wind and solar. In turn, the utility companies either provide the consumer with an account credit, or issue a check for the amount of energy provided by the consumer or the utility company.

Scenario:
 

  • Threat -- Consumers hack their smart meters to modify the power generation information being sent to the utility company.
  • Attack vector -- An easily guessed password on an administrative interface (Secure Shell [SSH]) of the customer’s smart meter allows complete access to the device, including the net metering data. The customer modifies the data using a tool they downloaded from the Internet.
  • Impact -- Customer is able to over-report the amount of power being provided to the utility company. Thus, the customer obtains a larger credit or even a check from the utility company, while they unknowingly are paying their customer for nothing.

Sensor data manipulation
Smart meters will include sensors that will allow the utility companies to perform myriad tasks ranging from post mortem forensic analysis to power system restoration, to distribution network monitoring, restoration, and self healing. However, if the integrity of the sensor data is compromised, the result will be disastrous.

Scenario
 

  • Threat -- Brett, a self-taught hacker, is curious about how the “whole smart grid thing works.” Being in high school, Brett lives with his parents, whose house was recently fitted with a smart meter. Brett spends hours upon hours playing with the smart meterand eventually is able to create a program that would send false sensor data for his entire neighborhood.
  • Attack vector -- The sensor data is sent from the smart meters to the utility company in an unencrypted format. Brett uses this insecure configuration to capture, manipulate and successfully transmit false sensor data to the utility company. He is also able to capture network traffic for his neighbor’s smart meters and obtains their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Using his custom written program, Brett sends false sensor information to the utility company, indicating that Brett’s entire neighborhood is without power.
  • Impact – The utility company, unsure of how a single neighborhood can lose power, sends a crew out to investigate. Upon arrival at the neighborhood in question, the crew reports that there is no outage. The utility company underestimates the criticality of the issue and simply chalks it up to a system malfunction. Brett, amused by the situation, performs similar attacks over the next two years, ultimately costing the utility company thousands of dollars in wasted man hours.

Download the entire chapter.

Reprinted with permission from Elsevier Inc. Copyright 2011. "Securing the Smart Grid" by Tony Flick and Justin Morehouse. For more information about this title and similar books, please visit the book’s page on the Syngress web site.

This was first published in April 2011

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