A big topic today is the so-called Smart Grid. This is our power system on steroids, or at least, on millions of small, very capable monitoring computers that will make our power usage more efficient and more, well…smart.

Briefly, the Smart Grid will streamline our power use and decentralize power production, providing resiliency against outages and infrastructure attacks. Two-way digital connections between power providers and consumer homes will help save energy and money. The current grid struggles to keep up with our ever-increasing power needs, and its replacement by the government is a multi-billion dollar initiative already underway.

Most people are now aware (or are getting more so) that all this wonderful technology that makes us efficient, effective and connected also makes us vulnerable to those who want to do us harm. This could be cyber vandals, cheap crooks and scam artists, highly organized criminal enterprises, terrorists, or enemy nations. Let’s put it simply: we have to develop and deploy a Smart Grid. We need it both economically and ecologically. There is no going back to the old isolated power system developed over the span of the Twentieth Century. We are moving forward.

Equally obvious is that this new system is currently very vulnerable. Bad guys can hack in and do damage, extort money, create fear, and generally make our lives very difficult. Right now, leaders and technicians in the government and in the private sector are working like crazy to minimize the risk as much as possible. I would love to say they are working to make sure the bad things do not happen, but frankly, anyone who thinks we can obtain that level of security is not being realistic. Minimizing the risk is as good as it will ever get folks, and we should accept that.

So, what happens? Will the bad guys win the race and hurt us, or will the good guys (in both public and private sectors) prevail? I am an optimist. I think the U.S. can solve any technological challenge it faces. That said, the real problems are that our laws and policies are generally as out dated as the old dumb power grid. If we do not update laws and authorities, it will become ever more difficult for us to provide security, imperfect or otherwise.

Yes, there will be problems, and we can only hope they are relatively small ones that get the attention of the Administration, the Legislators, and the leaders of nearly all sectors of our economy, before a really big attack hits us.

The Smart Grid is vulnerable, but given its essential value, we had better get busy making it more secure. And we are.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More