Washington, March 31 (ANI): Security analysts have warned that US President Barrack Obama's plans to accelerate the development of an electrical "smart grid" could leave America's power supply dangerously vulnerable to attacks by computer hackers.
According to a report by Fox News, the "smart grid" is projected to be a nationwide system of automated meters and advanced sensors that integrates new alternative-energy sources with traditional power plants.
Once online, utilities will be able to adjust their rates to the immediate supply and demand for power, and customers will be able to choose to operate their appliances during the hours when consumption and prices are at their lowest.
Obama's economic stimulus package allocates 4.5 billion dollars to modernize the nation's electricity system and put smart-grid technology on the fast track.
But, creating a two-way line of communication between homes and the grid - however "smart" it may be - has its risks, according to experts.
"With smart grid, anybody with an eBay account and 80 dollars can go and buy a smart meter, reverse-engineer it and figure out how to attack the grid," said Josh Pennell, president and CEO of IOActive, a technology research firm in Seattle, who testified before the Department of Homeland Security last week.
On the other hand, he said, "If people are going to attack a power grid right now, it would need to be a very well-funded operation."
Pennell envisions low-level hackers trying to steal customer data for the purposes of fraud - or an international terrorist group infiltrating the grid and causing a massive power blackout.
There have already been several instances of hackers breaking into foreign power grids and holding the electricity supply for ransom.
According to Hank Kenchington, deputy assistant secretary of research and development at the Department of Energy, officials are taking steps to secure the "smart grid" as it goes online.
"This isn't the first time we're hearing about this," he said. "We're addressing these issues with the utilities," he added.
In Boulder, Colorado, more than half the city's homes are already being fitted with "smart meters," along with various other devices to help residents conserve energy, in a pilot project that could soon see "smart grid" extending across eight states in the US.
"Construction on the first wave of government-funded "smart grid" projects is expected to begin this summer," Kenchington said.
But, it's the speed of the deployment that concerns Pennell and his colleagues, who say not enough time is being left for security tests. (ANI)