Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dartmouth College, the University of California at Davis, and Washington State University are together addressing the challenge of how to protect the nation's power grid by significantly improving the way the power grid infrastructure is built, making it more secure, reliable, and safe. This Department of Energy-funded project, with support from the Department of Homeland Security, recognizes that today's quality of life depends on the continuous functioning of the nation's electric power infrastructure, which in turn depends on the health of an underlying computing and communication network infrastructure that is at serious risk from both malicious cyber attacks and accidental failures. These risks may come from cyber hackers who gain access to control networks or create denial of service attacks on the networks themselves, or from accidental causes, such as natural disasters or operator errors.
TCIPG is the successor to the TCIP Center, which was funded by the National Science Foundation from 2005 to 2010.
TCIPG's research plan is focused on securing the low-level devices, communications, and data systems that make up the power grid, to ensure trustworthy operation during normal conditions, cyber-attacks, and/or power emergencies. At the device level, new key functionality is being designed in hardware in order to detect attacks and failures and to restore proper system operation. Likewise, virtual machine technology is being developed and adapted for advanced power meters in order to permit new power use scenarios while preserving privacy. At the protocol level, new techniques are being developed to detect, react to, and recover from cyber attacks that occur while preserving integrity, availability, and real-time requirements. Further, lightweight authorization and authentication techniques are being developed that can react quickly in emergency situations. Simulation and evaluation techniques are employed to analyze real power grid scenarios and validate the effectiveness of the TCIPG designs and implementations. TCIPG has also developed interactive and open-ended applets for middle-school students, along with activity materials and teacher guides to facilitate the integration of research, education, and knowledge transfer by linking researchers, educators, and students.
Impact is being made at all levels in the project. At the device level, attested meters have been developed that provide the advanced features needed for energy control, while ensuring appropriate access control and also preserving customer privacy. Hardware support has been developed to support application-aware detection and recovery mechanisms in power system devices. Likewise, secure co-processors have been developed to perform efficient cryptographic computations to facilitate communications between substations and control centers on the grid. At the network level, protocols are being developed to provide efficient, timely, and secure publishing of and subscription to process control system data; to support secure and timely data and resource aggregation in process control systems; and to provide federated identity management, access management, and trust negotiation for the grid. These protocols are being designed with next-generation communication and control requirements in mind, providing the building blocks for a more robust, secure, timely, and adaptive grid infrastructure. Finally, a combined simulation/testbed environment has been developed that mimics specific aspects of the IT infrastructure of the power grid accurately, while being scalable. Together, these innovations provide clear directions toward a next-generation IT infrastructure for the power grid that is reliable, timely, and secure, supporting the continuous functioning of the nation's electric power infrastructure.