NSF grant to support research of grid security

PULLMAN — A team of researchers from Washington State University’s College of Engineering and Architecture has been selected to play a major role in a National Science Foundation-sponsored research initiative intended to address the challenge of protecting the cybersecurity of the nation’s power grid.

In an Aug. 15 announcement, WSU was named as one of four universities that will participate in a new five-year collaborative research effort supported initially by an NSF grant of $7.5 million. Other collaborators are Cornell University, Dartmouth College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). UIUC will serve as the home of a national center to be called Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIP).

The TCIP center will be dedicated to developing new technologies for the electric power grid’s cyber infrastructure, making it more secure and robust. The solutions created are expected to be adaptable for use in other critical infrastructure systems. Nearly $1 million of the NSF grant money has been pledged to support WSU research, which is the largest sub-award outside the center’s home at UIUC.

The research by the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science will be led by Carl Hauser and David Bakken, associate professors of computer science, and Anjan Bose, Distinguished Professor in Power and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.

“This center brings together security-related research by 19 faculty members and senior researchers, together with their students at the four institutions,” Hauser said.  “Their combined expertise in distributed computing, simulation, modeling, cybersecurity, power engineering and energy policy will be leveraged to help secure the power grid’s cyber infrastructure.”
Hauser noted that the center will have a 14-member industrial advisory board from the electric power industry that will help ensure that the research addresses real-world problems.

The award was one of 36 grants totaling $36 million announced this week by the NSF as part of its 2005 Cyber Trust program. Cyber Trust is the centerpiece of the NSF’s cybersecurity efforts. TCIP is one of only four center-scale awards granted under the Cyber Trust program, and the only center supported by research by a university in the Pacific Northwest. The Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security also have pledged to join NSF in funding and overseeing TCIP.

The awards come at a time of increased public and government concern over the vulnerability of the nation’s power grid. The Aug. 14, 2003 blackout that affected an estimated 50 million customers in the Northeast and Canada demonstrated the fragility of the grid and raised concerns about the ease with which terrorists might take advantage of that weakness.

The WSU researchers have been designing and developing GridStat, a communication system intended to improve the security, efficiency and reliability of the power grid. Poor communication of operational data has been recognized as a major contributing factor to all recent blackouts. GridStat is designed to overcome this problem. It delivers status information to participants in the power grid in a much more flexible and robust manner than is possible today. GridStat is the first operational implementation of such a flexible system. It has been deployed for two years in a technology demonstration project using real power grid data from Avista Utilities.

“We have been working on identifying and solving the power grid’s communication problems since 1999 and are excited to be taking GridStat to the next level with this award,” Bakken said.

Bill Sanders, director of both the UIUC’s Information Trust Institute and the new TCIP center, said “WSU has a long history of providing research advances for the electric power grid’s communication system. Their excellent interdisciplinary research, involving both computer science and power engineering faculty, was instrumental in our team’s obtaining funding for this project.”

The funding will support further development of GridStat concepts and integration with technologies developed by other collaborators. WSU research will extend trust management concepts to provide more dynamic and adaptable access control for grid communications.

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