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Institutes Developing Power Grid Cybersecurity Technology

PowerLines at sunset (Brookhaven National Lab)

(Brookhaven National Lab)

Engineering labs at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta are designing a suite of tools to better protect electric power grids, incorporating lessons from recent smart grid developments. The $1.7 million grant from U.S. Department of Energy will fund the work of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, with two other organizations affiliated with Georgia Tech: Strategic Energy Institute and National Electric Energy Testing, Research and Applications Center (NEETRAC), part of the university’s computer science and electrical engineering school.

Protecting the power grid poses a particular challenge, according to Seth Walters, Georgia Tech Research Institute’s principle investigator on the project. Walters notes in a university statement that power grids “provide distribution over a large geographic area and are composed of disparate components, which must work together as the system’s operating state evolves.”  Any solutions developed, Walters adds, will need to account for different bandwidth limitations and security profiles dictated by these different components.

The Georgia Tech team will devise systems to detect in real time a hostile attack to the power grid. One part of the R&D will be modeling and simulations of potential attacks on the grid. This part of the project will harness the experience of smart-grid developers to simulate mechanisms that attack the physical grid.

Based on those models and simulations, the team will design sensors to detect network intrusions and prevent message packets containing destructive commands from entering the network.  The team is expected to devise algorithms that evaluate the content of the messages and their impact on the infrastructure at that time, rather than attempting to anticipate all possible types of attacks.

The security tools will build on previous work by Georgia Tech both in electrical power grid monitoring and protection, as well as cybersecurity. The project is expected to have three phases: research and development, test and validation in Georgia Tech labs, and demonstration at various grid sites, working with commercial utility partners.

Eventual deployment, say the researchers, will be guided by a commercialization plan for the benefit of other utilities. “[A]s part of research and development,” says Walters, “we will be working to ensure that the tool suite, as conceptualized by the team, remains relevant to current and emerging industry needs.”

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