Unintended Consequences Await

Technology Review: Hacking the Smart Grid

The hurried deployment of smart-grid technology could leave critical infrastructure and private homes vulnerable to hackers. Security experts at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas last week warned that smart-grid hardware and software lacks the necessary safeguards to protect against meddling.

Utilities are being encouraged to install this smart-grid technology–network-connected devices to help intelligently monitor and manage power usage–through funding from the U.S. government’s 2009 stimulus package. The smart systems could save energy and automatically adjust usage within homes and businesses. Customers might, for example, agree to let a utility remotely turn off their air conditioners at times of peak use in exchange for a discount.

But to receive the stimulus money, utilities will have to install new devices across their entire customer base quickly. Security experts say that this could lead to problems down the road–as-yet-unknown vulnerabilities in hardware and software could open up new ways for attackers to manipulate equipment and take control of the energy supply.

Neither foresight nor remediation of unintended consequences can be counted among the strengths of the American left. The Community Reinvestment Act killed the mortgage industry, the stimulus bill cost jobs, the health care bill chased away doctors, and the more they intervene when it comes to all things environmental, the more problems they seem to leave everyone open to. Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain dangerous amounts of mercury. A run on biofuel has left millions of acres of Brazilian rainforest undercut and plowed to make way for sugarcane. You get the idea.

When it comes to the so-called “smart grid,” I will not pretend to be an expert on such things. All of us have heard about the potential applications, and most of us understand how it can be used to infringe upon the liberties of the people. Yet, when it comes to foreseeable unintended consequences, hacking and the dangers therein should be at the top of the list.

Unfortunately, I have no faith that implementation of the Smart Grid will be any different. When something like this comes about at the behest of people who want it for non-practical–read: political–reasons, unintended consequences await.



  1. 120 in Memphis says:

    You hack my air conditioning, and I will not be responsible for any homicides I commit.

  2. William A. Rose says:

    The possibilities for control based on this technology are endless. And scary. However, there are so many sheeple out there that will beat down the doors to the vendors and get this installed.

    Me? Simple. Plain. As off grid as possible. I’m too spoiled, though. If I did not have the Internet, I am not sure what I’d do. Imagine life without it. I do remember such life, vaguely. Electricity and running water are nice. Even INDOOR plumbing.

    It’s amazing the human race has survived so long. Just what did the people do before today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Jordan Bell says:

    Customers might, for example, agree to let a utility remotely turn off their air conditioners at times of peak use in exchange for a discount.

    So its a nice hot day outside and everyone has their AC on to stay cool, but since you volunteered (or was voluntold), you get shut off because its now during a peak time.

    Or if you are a customer who doesn’t agree, but somehow ends up on their list, and you require the power of machines for life support, they shut off your power because you’re using it during a peak time.

    Or if your bill get lost in the mail, or you are a few days late, they can remotely shut you off, which can play into the scenario I mentioned above.

    Don’t think for a moment that this “smart grid” technology is here to help. The main implementation for this is control, and its not for your benefit. It is about someone else deciding how much electric power you get to use and what it is used for, not what you personally want to do with it. Afterall, Obama stated “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times.”

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