Canadian Underwriter

U.S. researchers team up to safeguard power utilities from cyberattacks

October 13, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter

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Researchers from Florida International University (FIU) in Miami have teamed up with four other universities and a utility company in an attempt to help safeguard power utilities in the United States from cyberattacks.

The researchers will address vulnerabilities and challenges in delivery systems of the U.S. power grid. Credit: Florida International University.

Researchers from FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing have joined with faculty from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn., the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, FIU said in a press release on Monday. Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation, based in Little Rock, will serve as an industry partner.

The researchers will address vulnerabilities and challenges in delivery systems of the U.S. power grid, the FIU release said. Their goal is to protect hardware assets, make systems less susceptible to cyberattack and provide reliable delivery of power if such an attack were to occur.

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In particular, the FIU team will be involved in aspects of the project that include protection of core power grid controls and operations by building security and privacy protection into components and services that include micro-grid assets, smart metering and electric vehicles. The team will also be involved in protecting the communications infrastructure and providing security management capabilities to address operations beyond human capacity, and providing security testing and validation to evaluate the effectiveness of protective measures.

“A cyberattack on any part of the nation’s power grid could leave millions of people without power, resulting in serious health and safety threats as well as a major economic blow,” said Professor Osama Mohammed of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who is leading the team of FIU researchers. “Working together, we hope to reduce the vulnerability of our power grid and ensure the security of our energy delivery systems for the future.”

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The researchers are working together as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Center for Securing Electric Energy Delivery Systems, made possible by a US$12.2 million award from the energy department, augmented by US$3.1 million in matching funds from the research participants.

The FIU reported in the release that in the first half of the 2015 fiscal year, the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, part of the Department of Homeland Security, responded to 108 cyber incidents impacting critical infrastructure in the United States. As in previous years, the energy sector led all others with the most reported incidents.

The National Security Agency also reported that it has seen intrusions into industrial control systems used in the electrical grid by entities with the apparent technical capability “to take down control systems that operate U.S. power grids,” according to the “Cybersecurity Issues for the Bulk Power System” congressional report.