Infrastructure Security Initiatives

Power Grid Security Research Gets New Funding

A pan-university team will be able to continue their research into securing the national power grid with an infusion of federal funding for a project that began several years ago. Researchers at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the University of California, Davis; and Washington State University make up the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIPG), which has been awarded a five-year $18.8 million grant from the United States Department of Energy with contributions from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Funding initially started in 2005 with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

As power grids are upgraded and connected to online systems to increase efficiency, resulting in a "smart grid," they become increasingly vulnerable to malicious attacks and hackers. TCIPG is exploring development of a "Smarter Grid," a set of security tools and technologies to ensure that the U.S. electrical power infrastructure isn't disrupted.

Among current successes, the researchers have developed and implemented a process for protecting message exchanges and a strategy for managing complex security policies in large networks that potentially have thousands of rules about who can access what. The team has also addressed security weaknesses of individual computational devices in substations and homes.

The newest research will aim to integrate IT with real-time authentication, integrity, and confidentiality and hardware and software that resists and tolerates attempts at intrusion without impairing performance. Researchers said they hope to implement systems that allow for wide-area monitoring and control, respond to and better control demands for energy load, and better provide for the plug-in needs of hybrid electric vehicles.

"Power is the critical infrastructure that underlies all other critical infrastructure; if there's no electricity, we can't power the Internet, or telephones, or medical equipment," said Sean Smith, an associate professor of computer science affiliated with Dartmouth's Institute for Security, Technology, and Society. "It's great to make a contribution to the effort to secure the power grid. And, because we involve undergraduate and graduate students, and high school students, too, the work furthers our educational mission. The students all get real-world experience and make real-world contributions."

"Securing the current grid--already a huge distributed system with complex performance, operational, and deployment constraints--is an important problem, and it will only get more urgent as computing permeates more places in it," he added.

Many of the researchers in the project, including Smith, are also associated with the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection, a 27-member consortium of national cyber security institutions, headquartered at Dartmouth. The institute coordinates a national cyber security R&D program involving academia, industry, and government.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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