More and more, Americans are living interconnected lives. We communicate electronically. We shop and bank electronically. We learn electronically. And we rely on highly sophisticated computerized machines to carry out such basic routines as commuting to work, securing our homes and caring for our health. No wonder there has been a lot of talk of late about the critical importance of securing our nation’s power grid — considered “the largest interconnected machine” that comprises a complex web of digital and physical systems from power plants to substations to power lines — and the ever-mounting attacks and vulnerabilities that threaten to compromise it.
Of course, for as long as there has been a U.S. power grid, there has been concern for its security. But whereas incidents such as equipment failures and environmental hazards like fallen trees on high-voltage lines were often the focus, now that focus has shifted to such perils as software attacks and stolen credentials by anyone from unscrupulous groups to foreign governments to lone hackers. What was perhaps once thought to be the stuff of science-fiction novels and dramatic movies is now a potential reality of everyday life.
Indeed, as the power grid becomes increasingly computerized — and its physical systems continue to age — we must discover smarter, more innovative ways to protect it. We must also invent ways to optimize our energy resources and uses, from furthering advances in electric and hybrid vehicles to developing alternative renewable sources for sustainable energy. At the frontier of a great deal of that discovery are faculty from Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science who are performing pioneering research and training tomorrow’s cyber-security and energy systems leaders in a quickly growing, increasingly vital field that holds the keys to preserving many aspects of the American way of life.