Cyber Security Attacks on the U.S. Electric Grid

US Electric GridEverything has a price. The digital age has brought all corners of the Earth within the human grasp of connection—our price, the one that we seem to be paying with increasing frequency, may well be our security: our information, intellectual property, data, etc. And this is strictly from an individual level. On an industrial and corporate level, the price may very well be dangerous. We are talking here about cybersecurity concerns. Technology has indeed opened the corners of the Earth to us—but in every corner, there lurk the malicious impulses of humanity, including in the Electric Grid.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted several cybersecurity attacks on utilities in prominent locations around the U.S. Included among those targeted by a hacking campaign based out of Hong Kong, was the Cloverland Electric Cooperative (Michigan), the Wisconsin Rapids Water Works and Lighting, ALP Utilities (Minnesota), Cowlitz County Public Utility District (Washington), Flathead Electric Cooperative (Montana), Basin Electric Power (North Dakota), Klickitat Public Utility District (Washington), Brownsville Public Utilities Board (Texas), Utilities Commission of New Smyrna Beach (Florida), Rochester Public Utilities (Minnesota), Tucson Electric Power (Arizona), Emera (Maine), and Tri-County Electric Cooperative (South Carolina). Seven out of the thirteen afflicted utilities were also contacted by the FBI who has been investigating cyber attacks coming out of the East Asian market throughout the year.

As you can observe from the list above, the overwhelming majority of these targets are connected to the U.S. electrical grid in some form or fashion, and even more threatening, most are in close proximity to critical infrastructures such as dams and transportation centers. For example, the Klickitat electric utility company monitors an array of federal dams near White Salmon, Washington, that provides hydroelectricity to large swaths of California—likewise, the Cloverland plant operates beside the transportation lock channels in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, which is a major shipping lane for vessels carrying iron ore to steel mills all across the U.S. The implications of these coordinated attacks are not hard to discern—when fully carried out by a much more aggressive campaign, these cybersecurity breaches could wreak unprecedented havoc across the country’s industries and daily life in general.

As part of OTEK’s long-standing commitment to the nuclear industry, we invested our time and technology in creating instrumentation that meets the cybersecurity concerns of nuclear power plants under the NRC and NEI-08-09, while still carrying the trusted firmware technology that has made us a leading name in the instrumentation industry for decades. The result was our Solid State Analog Meter or SSAM. A true industry first, the SSAM’s uniqueness rests in its hybrid makeup—built without any critical digital assets such as microprocessors, the SSAM is naturally immune to the reach of cybersecurity hackers. There’s simply no component that can be reached by an outside source, i.e. the internet. The gate, so to speak, remains closed. The SSAM runs on pure CMOS logic and features pure white LED technology that can be customized to virtually any color using OTEK’s unique “One Size Fits All” scale plate design—meaning you don’t need to purchase a new unit or make any prodigious changes to your panel-cutout or wiring. All you have to do is change the scale plate!

In addition to the cybersecurity applications, the SSAM series also features 4-20 and 10-50mA inputs, 100% signal powered, AC/DC Watts and Hertz or external power, 4 ½ digits at 0.1% accuracy, optional isolated H.V. SPDT dual alarms, a loop burden of less than 5V or 100mW power, and our patented signal failure alarm that warns the user of a signal or power loss for nearly an hour after the initial dead signal. The SSAM replaces the popular DB40 analog meter still prevalent in nuclear I & C rooms across the U.S.

In this digital age of rampant technological progression, we cannot slow the train, but we can be mindful of the tracks, especially in the components of the US Electric Grid. Cybersecurity is bound to play an increasing role in our global infrastructure and OTEK intends to be ready with innovative and efficient solutions such as the SSAM for years to come.