Smart Meter Vulnerabilities to Space Weather, Manmade EMP and Cyber Attacks

Image: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Dr. Isaac Jamieson has issued an Addendum to his report on Smart Meters – which was commissioned by the Radiation Research Trust – detailing Smart Grids’ increased vulnerabilities to Space Weather, Manmade Electromagnetic Pulses and Cyber Attacks.  The full Addendum is available here.

We are grateful to Dr. Jamieson for his extensive work in assessing the many significant risks associated with Smart Meters and Smart Grids, and for permitting us to post the following summary for our visitors and members.  We encourage everyone to read the full addendum and to review the full list of references Dr. Jamieson has drawn upon.

[Smart Grid/Meter] Vulnerabilities to Space Weather, Manmade EMP and Cyber Attacks – Summary

Solar super storms

It is predicted by NASA and by the NOAA that the Sun may be entering a particularly energetic period (similar to that in which the most powerful solar storm ever recorded occurred), with very energetic solar storms happening every couple of months instead of years, with activity peeking around 2013-­‐ 2014. Scientists are already talking about the likelihood of solar “blackswan event” in 2012. The risks posed by space weather are known and significant, a severe event could potentially have serious impacts upon infrastructure and society. The UK National Security Strategy identifies space weather as a Tier 1 risk, the highest of identified “priority risks.” Under the worse case scenario, large areas of the Earth could be without electricity for long periods, possibly several months, with high loss of life. Countries, and areas, with “fragile” grid infrastructures are likely to be affected most -­‐ smart grid electronics may introduce additional vulnerabilities to exposed grids. The use of Smart Meters instead of analogue meters may also increase risk, as they are more likely to be damaged by solar events.

Practicality, Security, War, Terrorist or Cyber-Attack

It is recognised that if countries fail to implement suitable measures to protect themselves against electronic attack they leave themselves open to extreme danger.

Manmade EMP Events

High-­‐Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP)

The term HEMP is often used for EM signals created from a nuclear detonation interacting with the Earth’s upper atmosphere. There are already nations possessing the capability to use HEMP devices to cause catastrophic results to critical infrastructures over wide geographical areas. Smart grid components are more prone to damage from HEMP than the parts of the system they replace. HEMP may seriously damage solid-­‐state Smart Meters. The US National Security Working Group notes “… vintage type electronic systems are much more robust and tolerant to EMP effects. The bad news is that these systems are growing old and … will be replaced with modern versions that are inherently more vulnerable to EMP.”

Non-­‐Nuclear EMP (NNEMP) / Intentional Electromagnetic Interference (IEMI)

Extremely powerful portable radio transmitters (which may be mobile and coordinated) can be built to create NNEMP. Its effects are similar to solar threats and HEMP but are usually more localised. As noted by Radasky, “… the IEMI threat to Smart Meters, distributionelectronics, substation electronics, substation communications, control rooms and power generating facilities (including wind and solar facilities) is the same as for … HEMP.” This vulnerability needs to be urgently addressed. There is presently no protection for Smart Meters against EMP. Even simple EMP devices such as a coil of wire and a battery at close range can disable them.

Preventing Natural and Manmade EMP Catastrophes

Smart grids create more potential points of failure from EMP than traditional grids. Ideally, protective no cost / low cost measures should be considered early in the brief and applied before rollout. Action is required sooner rather than later and could create numerous beneficial opportunities. As noted by Arbuthnot et al., “The technology to protect critical infrastructures from natural or malicious electromagnetic threats now exists. Implementation costs are estimated at less than 0.01% of GNP.”

Cyber Security

The UK National Security Council recognises cyber-­attacks as a Tier One threat. It has already been claimed that hackers from foreign countries have reconnoitered the US electricity grid possibly seeking to discover exploitable systemic vulnerabilities such as those found in present Smart Meter systems. Smart Meters can create substantial new cyber-­vulnerabilities. As noted by Anderson & Fuloria, one of the gravest of these is that of “a ‘cyber-­nuke’ [through the Smart Meters] that would reduce … [a country’s] population to destitution. Recovery from such an attack would be painful [loss of lifemay also be high – present author’s comment].” This risk does not exist with analogue meters.

Conclusion – the design of power grids, meter systems and electrical appliances needs to be rapidly rethought to deal with the real life issues that have been raised.

Full addendum here.