Johnson, Roberson Part of Team Named 2020 Top Innovators for Cybersecurity Research
February 17, 2021
College of Engineering Distinguished Professor Brian Johnson and Assistant Professor Dakota Roberson are part of a research and design team named by national magazine Public Utilities Fortnightly as one of the Top Innovators 2020 in the category of Transmission. Project partners in addition to U of I Department of Electrical and Computer engineering faculty include project lead, global energy and digital technology company Hitachi ABB Power Grids, the Bonneville Power Administration, Argonne National Lab and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. The U of I team was funded through a nearly $200,000 subcontract from a U.S. Department of Energy Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems R&D Program grant to Hitachi ABB Power Grids that aimed at creating an array of protections for high-voltage direct current transmission systems to detect, alarm and block malicious cybersecurity attacks on the controls of these critical systems.
The team developed algorithms to defend against attackers that breached the station cyber perimeter aiming to disrupt these systems by spoofing spurious control commands, measurements, or altering a device configuration, even if commands and data are compliant with respect to syntax, protocol and targeted device. The U of I team recently earned another grant for $100,000 from Hitachi ABB Power Grids to build on that research.
Working with flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS) devices, the research team will identify certain classes of attacks and take appropriate mitigation actions to reduce the impact of those attacks. The research also adds an additional variable.
“Our research in the first project included the assumption that an intruder has been able to breach the electronic perimeter of a power substation where the converter is, and may be, falsifying measurements and changing commands. The new project includes the assumption that an attacker has breached multiple systems in other locations to destabilize the power system along with parts of the communication system,” Johnson said.
Similar to the capture the flag exercises done by students, the research team, including Hitachi ABB Power Grids, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Iowa State University, intends to split up into two teams, one to monitor the FACTS devices and identify attacks, and one smaller red team to do the attacking.
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