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Think Tank: Power Grid Becoming More Vulnerable

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U.S. power grids are more exposed than ever

The threat of attack on power grids is nearly as old as power grids themselves, but a recent report from a prominent think tank suggested that U.S. power grids may be more vulnerable than ever.

A recent report from the Manhattan Institute, an independent research and educational organization, warned that power grids in the U.S. could increasingly be targeted in the near future, putting much at risk. And not only could frequency of attacks increase, but the nature of the attacks could also transform in a complex way.

Power grids, an integral component to societies across the globe (and arguable increasingly so in this digital age), have always been vulnerable to both natural hazards like storms and earthquakes, as well as various other physical attacks, whether malicious or accidental. But now, the U.S. grid system must also contend with the threat of cyber attacks, as well.

According to the report, cyber attacks overall have been increasing 60 percent annually for the last six years, and, at the same time, utility companies have found themselves the target of these attacks more frequently.

Power grids and cyber security

According to the Manhattan Institute, the current push for “greener” and “smarter” grids could be inadvertently lessening grid security at the same time. Cyber security is an ever-evolving science, as it is constantly at odds with the other side that creates more sophisticated cyber attacks each passing month.

So, with more sophisticated attacks being thrown at grids that may be trying to modernize too fast, a security gap could be opening.

A key component to modern grids is that Internet connectivity is often built in to allow for more interaction and increase the odds of a continuous delivery of electricity. But the same connectivity that betters the "intelligence" of grids could also leave doors open for "malicious hackers and hostile nation-state entities."

In order to secure the grid against malicious cyber activity, the Manhattan Institute offered a series of recommendations. These included avoiding one-size-fits-all legislation that aims to protect, slowing down smart-grid transformation that may create new vulnerabilities, and reallocating grid budgets to increase funding for security.

Matt Mills Matt Mills has been involved in various aspects of online media, both on the editorial side and on the technology side, for more than 16 years. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, and is currently involved in multiple projects focused on innovation journalism.