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Los Alamos director echoes cyber concerns

Director Charlie McMillan told a gathering of energy executives that securing the electrical grid is a major concern now and it’s only becoming more serious.
May 21, 2013
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan (right), with, from left, Anthony Cugini of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, Thom Mason of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Tomas Diaz de la Rubia of Deloitte Consulting LLP.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan (right), with, from left, Anthony Cugini of the National Energy Technology Laboratory, Thom Mason of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Tomas Diaz de la Rubia of Deloitte Consulting LLP.

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In the time it takes me to say this sentence, the external firewalls of Los Alamos will be challenged hundreds of times by adversaries. Our systems, and yours, are very attractive.

Securing the grid will be key for energy security going forward

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.,May 21, 2013—Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan told a gathering of energy executives today that securing the electrical grid is a major concern now and it’s only becoming more serious.

“If you look back at the last year, there were several hundred attacks on critical infrastructure,” McMillan said, addressing attendees at the Deloitte Energy Conference near Washington, DC. “More than 40% of those attacks were on the energy sector.”

Resilience and reliability of the electrical grid have become key energy security concerns at the Laboratory and are important focus areas in global security. Experience with massive amounts of data, complex systems and security technology involved in nuclear weapons research are now providing insights for grid security, McMillan said.

“In the time it takes me to say this sentence, the external firewalls of Los Alamos will be challenged hundreds of times by adversaries. Our systems, and yours, are very attractive.” McMillan said. “But encrypting control signals on the grid is particularly challenging because any encryption scheme must be able to meet competing standards for very rapid response and high security.”

McMillan showed a Los Alamos device called a QKarD that uses principles of quantum cryptography to send secure signals at the speed of light. Single photons are used to produce secure random numbers between users, and these random numbers are then used to authenticate and encrypt the grid control data. QKarD was successfully tested recently at the University of Illinois to send signals between grid components separated by more than 12 miles of optical fiber.

Securing grid control systems with quantum cryptography would make them far less vulnerable to those attempting to interfere with signals between generators, control centers and substations.

For more information on QKarD:

The work has led to 27 U.S. and foreign patent applications and the Lab’s Technology Transfer Division is receiving inquiries from companies within the electric-grid control industry.

Caption for image below: Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan displays a QKarD, a Los Alamos device that uses quantum cryptography to transmit secure signals between sender and receiver.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.


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