Unplugging From Digital Controls to Safeguard Power Grids
Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to mandate federal research on a radically ‘retro’approach to protect power grids from cyber attack: unplugging or otherwise isolating the most criticalequipment from grid operators’ digital control systems. Angus King, an independent senator from Maine whose identical bill passedthe Senate last month, says such a managed retreat from networked controls may berequired to thwart the grid’s most sophisticated online adversaries. Grid cyber experts say the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act moving through Congress isa particular testament toMichael Assante, a gifted and passionate cybersecurity expert whodied earlier this monthfrom leukaemia at the age of 48.
“If you were to point to just one person as the primary driver, it would have to be Michael,” says colleague Andrew Bochman, senior cyber and energy security strategist at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Senator King recentlytoldThe Washington Postthat research at INL kicked-off by Assante had inspired the bill. Assante trained in cyberdefense as a naval intelligence officer and then joined the power industry in 2002 as chief security officer (CSO) for U.S. electricity giant American Electric Power.
Encounteringskepticism about the grid’s cyber vulnerability, Assante moved to INL in 2005 to prove the case. There heled the infamousAurora Generator Test. The video below captures itsdramatic results.