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GridRestoring power to a grid facing a cyberattack

Published 29 November 2016

Currently, utility companies in North America have procedures and capacity to handle localized power outages caused by events such as extreme weather and high usage on hot days. However, there are not any tools available to resolve the type of widespread outages that can be caused using malware. Researchers from SRI International are leading a collaborative team to develop cutting-edge technology that can be used by utilities and cyber first responders to restore power to an electric grid that has come under a cyberattack.

Researchers from SRI International are leading a collaborative team to develop cutting-edge technology that can be used by utilities and cyber first responders to restore power to an electric grid that has come under a cyberattack. The Threat Intelligence for Grid Recovery (TIGR) project aims to provide new tools that enable power engineers to restore and protect electrical service within seven days of an attack that overwhelms the recovery capabilities of utilities and subsystems.

SRI says that the project, funded by a $7.3 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the Rapid Attack Detection, Isolation and Characterization Systems (RADICS) program, includes, in addition to team-leader SRI International, Con Edison, Dartmouth College, New York University (NYU), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and Narf Industries. Together, the team will develop threat analysis and characterization technology for localizing and containing malware – malicious software such as a computer virus – that has breached industrial control systems (ICS) power grid equipment and networks.

Currently, utility companies in North America have procedures and capacity to handle localized power outages caused by events such as extreme weather and high usage on hot days. However, there are not any tools available to resolve the type of widespread outages that can be caused using malware.

The goal of the TIGR project is to develop tools that can be rapidly deployed after an attack has occurred. The tools will support resilient power recovery within three days and full restoration after seven days. Today’s generators have limited ability to supply power beyond seven days, making this timeframe critical for ensuring minimal disruption to the civilian power infrastructure.

“Reacting to a power crisis caused by a cyberattack requires a rapid, reliable and resilient response that presents complex challenges,” said Michael Locasto, Ph.D., senior computer scientist at SRI International and principal investigator for the project. “Our team’s combined expertise makes us uniquely qualified to develop tools that support rapid and trustworthy power restoration. Through the combination of domain experience, agility, and research expertise, the team’s goal is to provide tools that significantly strengthen power grid resilience over the next decade.”