University of Pittsburgh
April 7, 2009

Cyberspying on U.S. Power Grid Not Immediate Threat, But Exposes Need for Vigilance, Pitt Expert Says

Information spies accessed is readily available, but national push for digital 'smart' grids could leave the nation's energy system exposed without precautions
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PITTSBURGH-The electric power grid of the United States faces no immediate threat from the cyberspying revealed in April 8 news reports, but the revelation highlights the need for vigilance in securing the nation's energy infrastructure, according to a University of Pittsburgh electric power grid expert.

Gregory Reed, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering and director of the school's Power and Energy Initiative, is available to comment on the significance of the reported espionage as an indicator of the electric power grid's potential vulnerability. That issue is particularly relevant as the nation moves toward "smart" grids, which deliver power with more reliable, low-energy digital technology and are a priority of President Barack Obama's administration.

"The recent espionage won't reveal more than how the network is connected, and being able to map the infrastructure is not a threat without knowing how the system is operated and controlled," Reed said, adding that some of that nonvital information is even available from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

"But this points out the risk of a smart grid and the need to better secure our energy system: It's good to have open access and consumer control in real time, but we're exposed if it creates entry points for hackers and terrorists. While current reports suggest that the spies did not hack into the control systems, if they can determine where critical facilities are located, how power is delivered, and where control systems are vulnerable, then the information could be used adversely."

Reed is a recognized authority on advanced electric power generation, transmission and distribution systems, and power electronics technologies with 25 years of experience in the power industry. Before coming to Pitt, Reed focused on creating more efficient and advanced electric power systems. He has written or coauthored more than 50 papers and technical articles on power system analysis and the application of power systems technologies. He was a major contributor to the drafts and proposals of the 2005 U.S. Energy Policy Act, including written language pertaining to energy-related research, education, and market initiatives. Reed worked previously at KEMA Inc.-an international power and energy consulting firm-as senior vice president of the power system planning and management group where he advised North American firms on power systems management, power transmission, and technology applications. He spent most of the previous decade at Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc., most recently as director of business and technology development. Reed began his career in the electric power industry as an engineer at the Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc.