17.01.16 - 20.01.16, Seminar 16032

Privacy and Security in Smart Energy Grids

The following text appeared on our web pages prior to the seminar, and was included as part of the invitation.


Smart electricity grids augment the electricity distribution network with modern communications and computerized control to improve efficiency, reliability, and security of electricity distribution, and more flexible production. This initiative has been greeted by consumers and utilities not only with enthusiasm but also concern. Consumers worry about their privacy. Utilities worry about the security of their assets.

Consumer organizations across the globe protested against smart meters and smart homes collecting all their data, warning that security breaches in the databases of the utilities would expose privacy-critical data to attackers, or open to secondary uses leading to increased insurance premiums, behavioral advertising or privacy invasion.

These outcries and reactions have triggered academics and industry to look into designing privacy friendly protocols for smart metering. Among them, the participants of the successful Dagstuhl Seminar 11511 that was held in December 2011. Not only were their papers published at top privacy and security conferences; they also were successfully implemented in a pilot project in collaboration with industry participants of the workshop.

More challenges lie ahead. The two main use cases of Seminar 16032 are smart charging of electric vehicles (EVs) and distribution automation. The seminar will discuss these use cases with respect to the following challenges:

  • security architectures,
  • secure and privacy-friendly communication, and
  • hardware and software security for constrained devices in the smart grid.

Smart Charging Charging of electric vehicles is the next big challenge for privacy and security researchers: smart charging algorithms try to minimize loads on the grid by collecting various kinds of customer data, making it easy to reserve charging spots and book charge frequencies using smart-phone apps. The main motivation behind smart charging is to save copper for cables to match the load demands, given that an electric vehicle draws as much as a full household. Cables are designed to satisfy the demands at peak times. So profiling customers helps to foresee these demands and to calculate the cost of the needed grid infrastructure. Moreover, the cable designs use prediction algorithms to optimize loads, while assigning low priority to privacy issues, security architectures, and secure communication protocols.

Distribution Automation Another problem lies in the task of automated electricity distribution. In a smart grid, safety critical events in transformer stations can be monitored and operated remotely. Adding communication also exposes assets to new vulnerabilities and attacks. Grid components are controlled by dedicated devices that pose a challenge in terms of their storage and computation capacities. Moreover, as with any critical infrastructure, security often conflicts with safety. As a consequence security often does not play any role in the design of communication protocols and devices, supported by the argument that most devices reside in physically protected substations. However, providing such physical security is expensive and hackers do not need physical access to the grid operator sites if they are connected to the utility's IT network.

The goal of this seminar is thus (i) to raise awareness of these critical problems affecting every European citizen now or at least in the foreseeable future, and (ii) to bring together academic researchers as well as utility experts in order to start an open dialogue on smart grid privacy and security problems and potential solutions to support customers and utilities.