Electric Cars: Booming Sales Prompt Power Grid Cyber Attack Conerns

Tara Dodrill

Electric cars are attracting more buyers than ever before. Although the now more sporting looking vehicles may be better for the environment, they pose a great risk to the power grid. Not only are power grid segments in some cities already too overly burdened to sustain increased usage by a multitude of charging electric cars, the "refueling" stations themselves are reportedly extremely susceptible to cyber hacking.

The Tesla S series electric car sales are expected to increase by 55 percent in recent months. Company CEO Elon Musk is also preparing to launch a Model X crossover in 2015 and a Model E subcompact in 2017. Review journalist Kevin Bullis had this to say in a recent report about the power grid and electric cars, "Some neighborhood grids just aren't built for huge spikes in power demand. "The rise of the electric car has utilities scrambling to adjust."

The smart grid friendly electric car charging stations increase the power grid's vulnerability to cyber hackers. Cyber hackers could use the electrical car charging stations to cripple the power grid by "confusing" the system. During the Hack in the Box Conference in Amsterdam, an HP ArcSight product manager highlighted the many, many, many things which could go wrong as electric car chargers continue to dot the landscape.

Ofer Shezaf noted that the charging stations are essentially a computer on the street. The roadside stations are not only a street computer, but a link into the surrounding electrical system. The "smart charging" stations connect to the power grid in a manner designed to distribute energy evenly to the area while making sure demand does not overload the system.

The current design is a cyber hacker's dream set-up. If hackers gained access to electrical car charging stations, they could alter or stop the flow of power in specific areas. Even though the antiquated electrical systems could not be shut down in one fell swoop like a solar flare or EMP could accomplish, the impact would be just as devastating. A coordinated electrical car charging station attack by hackers could ultimately leave the entire nation in the dark.

While electrical charging stations are still a relatively new concept, the refueling venues are expected to become commonplace during the next decade. The roadside smart charging systems will reportedly offer easier access into the power grid for hackers. Since multiple charging stations will be inner-connected, a hacker with a laptop can simply pull up in a vehicle and try to gain access into the system virtually undetected.

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