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Eilyan Bitar receives NSF CAREER Award to secure the U.S. electricity grid and markets against cyber attacks

Friday, May 16, 2014

How can we secure our nation’s electric power infrastructure against malicious cyber attacks? If an attack were to happen, what countermeasures would we have? To develop answers to these questions, Eilyan Bitar was recently awarded an NSF CAREER Award for his proposal, Cyber-Physical Security of Electric Power Systems: Theft and Systemic Failure.

"The physical infrastructure of the U.S. electric grid is aging, over-burdened, and prone to failure," said Bitar. "And the drive to integrate variable renewable energy (such as wind and solar) into the grid, without sacrificing reliability, will require a paradigm shift in how we produce, deliver, and consume energy. At the heart of this transformation is the rapid deployment of the Smart Grid, which integrates new embedded sensing, communication, and computing technologies to improve utilization of existing resources, operational efficiency, and reliability."

However, with the increased reliance of grid operations on complex and actionable data flows, comes the substantial risk of cyber attacks on the corresponding physical and financial systems. By coordinating the manipulation of data transfers from only a small number of remote sensing units, a malicious adversary can mislead the system operator into taking corrective control actions with staggering economic and physical consequences. Situations like this could result in manipulation of electricity market prices and financial derivatives, inefficient dispatch of electric power generation, cascading failures in transmission networks, and physical damage to facilities.

"Through this grant, we'll explore the fundamental challenges associated wth securing the electric power infrastructure and electricity markets against cyber attacks," said Bitar. "The various mechanisms through which cyber attacks can manipulate the behavior of the power grid and other cyber-physical systems are not yet well understood. And effective countermeasures are still undeveloped."

By combining expertise at the intersection of power systems, optimization, and stochastic control theory, Bitar and his team intend to develop a mathematical framework and a set of algorithmic tools to serve as the foundation for a new information technology. They expect that this technology will be able to assess the vulnerability of existing power grids, determine the consequence of successful attacks, and develop effective countermeasures to thwart those attacks, innovations that will serve to substantially enhance the security of the United States' critical energy infrastructure and markets.

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