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GridCOM uses ‘unhackable encryption’ to safeguard electrical grid
Dr. Duncan Earl
GridCOM Technologies, a provider of cyber security solutions for energy infrastructure, has been awarded a grant from the State of California to help protect the country’s vulnerable electrical grid from the growing threat of cyber-attack.
GridCOM will receive $95,000, the maximum amount available, under the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, specifically the Energy Innovations Small Grant (EISG) program. That grant brings GridCOM’s total financial raise to $1.2 million in working capital, which will support development and testing of a prototype system before the end of 2014.
"This grant shows there is validity to GridCOM's unhackable encryption technology," said Dr. Duncan Earl, GridCOM founder and CTO. “Recent events out of Syria prove unfriendly nations and terrorist organizations are actively trying to launch devastating cyber-attacks on our country. GridCOM can help utilities quickly, inexpensively and effectively defend against these attacks, which could cost billions of dollars and endanger the lives of millions of people.”
With cyber-attacks growing in number and sophistication daily, leading government, industry and cyber experts agree that a successful attack on the electrical grid is only a matter of time and would most likely be overwhelming. A recent congressional report cited former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as saying, “a cyber-attack perpetrated by nation states or extremist groups” is as capable of being “as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11.”
The U.S. electrical grid consists of some 30 million devices that rely on machine-to-machine communications that are often less secure than personal online shopping accounts. The number of devices is expected to reach 300 million by 2020, as the Smart Grid, a modernized electrical grid that uses information and communications technology to gather and act on information, evolves.
Current encryption relies on predictable mathematical equations that can be solved in less time as computer power increases. That is why GridCOM is developing a game-changing, unhackable and future-proof service based not on math, but on quantum mechanics and the unpredictable nature of the universe -- science even Einstein considered “spooky,” said a news release issued by GridCOM on Sept. 3.
Using quantum entangled photons and optical fibers, a decentralized key server is created over a geographic region. For a monthly subscription fee, utlities' wired and wireless devices can access this quantum key server over the Internet to receive incorruptible keys used in performing symmetric key encryption. Due to the unique properties of quantum mechanics, the quantum entangled photons can detect -- with 100 percent assurance – any attempt to manipulate the initial creation of the incorruptible keys, says GridCOM. No hardware or special optical fibers are required at the device and no data latency is introduced by the technique -- an important requirement for grid compatibility.
The disruptive technology behind quantum encryption has been under development for more than 20 years at universities and national laboratories. GridCOM will be the first to apply that technology to protect energy infrastructure.
San Diego-based GridCOM Technologies is a private company founded in 2012 to protect global energy infrastructure from cyber-attack through the development and commercialization of quantum-based, machine-to-machine communication encryption technology. Dr. Duncan Earl, founder and CTO, is one of the world’s leading quantum cryptography experts, having served with the Cyberspace Sciences and Information Intelligence Research group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for nearly two decades, says GridCOM.