June 20, 2009 in Business

Lab testing Itron meters’ security

Goal is to protect U.S. power grid from attack
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Engineers at the Idaho National Laboratory are working with devices from Liberty Lake-based Itron Inc. to find ways to ensure the nation’s next-generation power grid is safe from malicious attacks.

The INL, based in Idaho Falls, has begun tests with Itron’s OpenWay AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) meter, one of the new generation of “smart” devices utilities are using to provide real-time information on power consumption and trends. The goal of the testing is to reduce vulnerability to shutdowns and terrorist attacks as the nation moves toward a “smart grid” network.

Utilities in California are deploying 8,000 smart meters per day, said David Baker, director of services for Seattle-based IoActive, a private security firm that does testing for utilities and other companies.

Baker said companies like Itron need to ensure that devices placed into the power grid are not vulnerable.

“We’ve proved the concept that there are vulnerabilities in the existing units” many utilities have already put into service, Baker said. Those are early-generation meters that were quickly deployed as utilities moved from handheld-gathered meter data to automated metering, he said.

Unless utilities move toward secure meters, the likelihood exists that someone will find a way to expose the security holes, according to Baker.

Itron is paying for the security evaluation, but company officials have not said how much the tests will cost.

“Our hope is we eventually will take the knowledge we gain by working with Itron and transition it out to third-party cyber-security firms,” said Ethan Huffman, a spokesman at INL, which contracts with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Preliminary results from the INL tests will be available later this summer.


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