ECE faculty partner with new research center focusing on cybersecurity of nation’s power grid


October 12, 2015

A new national center devoted to cybersecurity for electric power utilities has been announced at the University of Arkansas. The center is made possible by a $12.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, augmented by $3.3 million in matching funds from the research partners. 

The participating faculty from Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering include; Marija Ilić, Soummya Kar and Bruno Sinopoli.

“The impact of this work is tremendous,” said Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering and the University of Arkansas. “All too frequently we are hearing of how foreign entities are hacking into U.S. computer systems. This center’s mission is directly focused on protecting America’s electric energy delivery system, and we are pleased to have a great team with which to approach these challenges.”

As principal investigator and director of the new center, Mantooth will lead a team of researchers who will identify and develop solutions for vulnerabilities across the U.S. power grid. Their goal is to protect hardware assets, make systems less susceptible to cyberattack and provide reliable delivery of electricity if such an attack were to occur. 

Specific objectives include protecting core power grid controls and communications infrastructure, building security and privacy protection into components and services and providing security management capabilities and security testing and validation.

To achieve these objectives, researchers will develop algorithms for software modules that can be loaded onto systems and equipment such as fault-current limiters, breakers, measurement units, relays, wireless communications systems and power-line communications.   

“By providing more reliable delivery of power as a result of reducing outages caused by cyber-attacks, the electric power system remains up, and economic loss associated with downtime is eliminated,” Mantooth said. “This is what we are seeking. And, from a homeland security perspective, the electric power grid, in general, becomes less susceptible to attack.”

In addition to the U of Arkansas researchers, the new cybersecurity research center includes faculty from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Carnegie Mellon University, Florida International University and Lehigh University. 

See the University of Arkansas press release here