Smart Grid Security’s New Wave

Friday, October 8, 2010 @ 04:10 PM gHale

Moving to the smart grid means quite a few positive opportunities for the industry and the general public, but it also brings great potential for hackers.
There are some government labs, however, that are saying “not so fast.” That is because the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) just won DOE solicitations worth about $7 million over the next three years and will be developing systems to guard against power outages caused by man or nature.
Involved in this effort are a number of technologies, including advanced radio frequency technology and cyber security vulnerability detection of smart grid components and systems.
“A stable electric grid is of huge importance now and will become even more important in the future as we move toward electrification of our transportation system,” said Tom King of ORNL’s Energy Efficiency and Electricity Technology program.
In the DOE’s “Roadmap to Secure Control Systems in the Energy Sector,” published in January 2006, officials said “the need to safeguard our energy networks is readily apparent: Energy systems are integral to daily commerce and the safe and reliable operations of our critical infrastructure.”
King said one area of the work involves gaining a better understanding of the entire national power distribution system, or grid, from generation to transmission to the end user. Over the last decade the grid has become incredibly more complex, making this especially challenging, but it’s a challenge well suited to institutions like ORNL.
ORNL won two multi-year awards from DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and is a partner with Sypris Electronics on another. The awards were for the following projects:
Automated Vulnerability Detection for Compiled Smart Grid Software. Working with Carnegie Mellon University and EnerNex Corp., ORNL will develop and demonstrate a system for automated software vulnerability detection. This $3 million effort leverages ORNL’s position in two areas: Leadership-class computing and the sustainable campus initiative’s test bed for smart meters, said Stacy Prowell of the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division.
“Software vulnerabilities may provide an opportunity to compromise smart grid components to misreport usage, shut down power on command, compromise individual privacy or even launch coordinated attacks on other parts of the infrastructure,” said Prowell, who leads the research team. “Maliciously inserted vulnerabilities buried deep within the control software of devices can escape tradition vulnerability testing.”
By directing analyzing compiled software, the new system will be able to detect the inclusion of unintended and other vulnerabilities in the software that controls smart grid components.
Next-Generation Secure, Scalable Communications Network for the Smart Grid. ORNL will develop an advanced radio technology inherently secure with performance that will allow it to easily replace the current wireless technology used in smart grid applications.
“The radio will be based on ORNL’s patented technology called Hybrid Spread Spectrum, which is a synergistic combination of direct sequence and frequency hopping spread spectrum radios,” said Teja Kuruganti, who leads the $3 million project.
Researchers involved in this project will model the new radio, multiple access techniques and develop a proof-of-concept hardware demonstration. Goals include developing communication requirements in electric delivery systems, surveying of existing wireless technologies and streamlining a path to adopt next-generation radios for better system stability. Partners in this project are Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Virginia Tech, Kenexis and Opus Consulting.
In addition, ORNL will receive $150,000 per year for three years to participate in a Cyber Analysis Center led by the Electric Power Research Institute.

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