The study, which set out to analyze whether the U.S. power grid is prepared for technologies and power sources over the next 20 years, recommended a host of policy changes to gird the grid against coming challenges, including new powers and authorities regarding the emerging smart grid, particularly around cybersecurity.
Currently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation are empowered to create and police cybersecurity standards for power plants, but no organization has oversight over the grid itself, and states are headed in their own directions. In addition, the agencies with cybersecurity responsibilities aren't working together enough, the study found.
[ Cybersecurity is one part of the feds' four-pillar smart grid plan. Learn about the other three: White House Unveils National Smart Grid Strategy Framework. ]
"To cope more effectively with increasing cybersecurity threats, a single federal agency should be given responsibility for cybersecurity preparedness, response, and recovery across the entire electric power sector, including both bulk power and distribution systems," the report says. "Ongoing jurisdictional confusion raises security concerns, underscoring the need for action."
That's a point of major concern for a power system that the MIT report points out will soon see massive growth in the amount of data flowing over its lines as smart meters and synchophasors (devices that measure and help optimize power transmission) come online and power companies begin to push more and more data-enabled services over power lines.
"With the collection, transmission, processing, and storage of increasing amounts of information also comes heightened concern for protecting the privacy of that information," the report said. Information on personal electricity use habits, for example, will become more widely available to electric companies than ever before.
Hackers, not just the corporations themselves, will likely be interested in this data and opportunities to disrupt the grid. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2009 that Chinese and Russian government hackers were likely already looking for points of cyber weakness in the smart grid.
Various observers and policymakers also have argued for a centralized point of authority for smart grid cybersecurity, with various parties arguing for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, or the current electricity and energy regulatory bodies. MIT didn't recommend any particular agency over any other, but said designating one should be a high priority.
In addition to better management of cybersecurity, the MIT researchers recommended that the government spend more on research and development into procedures for response to and recovery from cyberattacks on the grid.
Cybersecurity wasn't the only IT fix the MIT study recommended to bolster the power grid in the future. The researchers also suggested that the energy industry do more R&D into using IT for bulk power system operations and planning for power transmission over wide geographic areas.
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