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Valdes to Direct "Smart Grid @ Illinois" Research

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - 11:00am

Al Valdes PhotoAlfonso Valdes, a longtime leader of national cyber security efforts in the electricity sector, is set to become the first managing director of the expanding "Smart Grid @ Illinois" research efforts housed in the Information Trust Institute (ITI) at the University of Illinois.

David M. Nicol, director of ITI, says that development of resilient Smart Grid technologies has grown to become one of the primary research areas of ITI. "ITI's mission is about improving the trustworthiness and security of information systems, and we don't just write academic papers--- We get our technologies working in the real world, identifying real applications and developing industry partnerships. And power grid trustworthiness is currently our single biggest application area. It's a topic with great national visibility now, because a lot of people are very concerned about the current vulnerabilities of the grid. Since ITI has so much expertise in this very hot research area, we've been putting more and more effort into it."

The term "Smart Grid" refers to the integration of the existing physical infrastructure of the power grid with an advanced communication and control cyber infrastructure, in order to make energy transmission and distribution more efficient--- and therefore cheaper for consumers and less wasteful of resources. However, Smart Grid technologies may introduce new problems, such as increasing the vulnerability of systems to cyber attack. Thus, leaders of the U.S. power sector have been anxious to improve the trustworthiness of the emerging technologies.

It's been just seven years since ITI started its first major power grid project, an NSF Cyber Trust Center called TCIP. Since then it's received about $30 million in funding for research on power grid trustworthiness. "TCIP's success attracted so much industry and government interest that we've become a national leader in research on cyber security of critical power infrastructures," says Nicol. "The growth in opportunities made it imperative that we recruit someone of Al Valdes's caliber to help manage these complex efforts and help develop new ones."

Alfonso Valdes has over thirty years of experience as an engineer and leader of cyber security research. In his most recent work, as a senior computer scientist at the SRI International research institute, he has focused on critical infrastructure systems in the oil & gas and electric sectors. He has led numerous information security projects for clients including the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Army, and the Navy. Both DHS and DOE drew on his expertise in developing their cyber security research roadmaps. Valdes is a co-inventor of multiple information security patents, and holds degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

"ITI is very fortunate to have Al coming on board," says Nicol. "Not only does he bring exactly the right skillset to this job, but he's a great colleague and collaborator."

Valdes will assume the Smart Grid @ Illinois managing director responsibilities on July 1.

About Smart Grid @ Illinois

ITI's power grid security programs are collectively known as "Smart Grid @ Illinois." The cornerstone of Smart Grid @ Illinois is the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIPG) Center, an $18.8 million initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security. One of the largest academic smart grid security efforts in the world, TCIPG has developed a range of hardware and software solutions to improve the trustworthiness, resiliency, and efficiency of the computing systems that underlie the nation's power generation and transmission systems.

TCIPG's achievements led to the creation of several additional power grid-related initiatives at ITI, including the Center for Assured Critical Application & Infrastructure Security (CACAIS, funded by the Office of Naval Research) and the Illinois Center for a Smarter Grid (funded by the State of Illinois), as well as numerous smaller-scale projects. In addition, ITI has formed international partnerships on power grid research with the South Korean government's Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) and with Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Advanced Digital Sciences Center.

About the Information Trust Institute (ITI)

The Information Trust Institute is a multidisciplinary cross-campus research unit housed in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is an international leader combining research and education with industrial outreach in trustworthy and secure information systems. ITI brings together over 100 faculty, many senior and graduate student researchers, and industry partners to conduct foundational and applied research to enable the creation of critical applications and cyber infrastructures. In doing so, ITI is creating computer systems, software, and networks that society can depend on to be trustworthy, that is, secure, dependable (reliable and available), correct, safe, private, and survivable. Instead of concentrating on narrow and focused technical solutions, ITI aims to create a new paradigm for designing trustworthy systems from the ground up and validating systems that are intended to be trustworthy.

Contact: Jenny Applequist, 217/244-8920, japplequ [at]

Released June 22, 2011

A high-resolution photograph of Alfonso Valdes is available.