84 percent of utilities make non-specialists cybersecurity decisions
The grid's enemies rely on expert hackers to carry out their attacks, defending themselves with pencil-pushers rather than professionals. That's because there aren't enough tech-savvy hired guns to go around. To combat this vulnerability, a federal task force is setting up mutual-assistance pacts, allowing one team of cyber-saviors to help multiple companies.
215 estimated Master Control Centers in America
A hacker's ultimate goal is to own a Master Control Center. Within these critical hub s, system operators rely on video-covered walls and button-filled consoles to keep the grid going. If a malignant program breaks through, it could corrupt the data that controllers rely on. So some power companies are creating duplicates. These twin nerve centers trade off grid-control duties and can also access pre-hack backups, allowing workers to replace a virus-infested system with a clean version.
72 hours from attack to society's total downfall
When a Black Sky hits, engineers have three days before food spoils, medicine and water run out, batteries die, and the public loses its collective marbles. Speedy fixes are vital, but that's difficult when the grid plugs thousands of power plants and even more customers into the same infrastructure. Companies like PJM Interconnection, which serves 13 eastern states, administer "organized markets" that help utilities obtain power from each other to restore the grid.
21,500 number of high-power substations in the U.S.
Like your home computer, the one at your local power substation needs regular virus scans and software patches. But it, and other devices embedded in the grid, lack the capacity to keep up with these frequent fixes. Instead of constant updates, Dartmouth College researchers developed a software patch called Autoscopy Jr. It lightly scans vital functions to identify signs, such as unexpected code lengths and timing hiccups, of a compromised system.
50 percent of American homes rely on smart meters
Utilities increasingly rely on smart meters: wireless devices that relay data about homes' power usage to companies for monitoring and billing But like all networked devices, smart meters are vulnerable to cyberattacks. SoBAE Systems is developing a way to keep hackers off the network. Protected with heavy encryption and multiple authentication checks, it can secure these devices while utilities shore up the rest of the grid.
697,000 circuit-miles of transmission lines
At each substation, older-model computers must continuously balance a three-phrase current streaming through its transmission lines. Many of these outdated machines are susceptible to malicious junk code. Rather than replacing them with pricey upgrades, a second Dartmouth project is tapping linguistics theory to write programs in which only grammatically correct input is accepted, keeping hackers from interfering with the wires.