Video of the month: URI Team Aims to Secure the Nation’s Critical Power Grid

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Video of the month: URI Team Aims to Secure the Nation’s Critical Power Grid

There have been reports that the entire US power grid can suffer a major blackout nationwide by an attack on merely 9 of its 55,000 substations, if planned intentionally [1][2]. This may sound suspicious, but on a smaller scale, how vulnerable is a regional electrical power grid, say the San Francisco Bay area, the heart of high-tech industry, under major outage or malicious penetrations?

A research group led by Prof. Haibo He at the University of Rhode Island gives us an answer with his recent work in the cyber-physical security studies facing the era of Smart Grid. This team includes multidisciplinary expertise with a strong focus on electrical power systems led by Prof. Haibo He, network and communication security led by Prof. Yan Lindsay Sun, and geo-information system (GIS) led by Prof. Peter August, plus numerous graduate and undergraduate students including Jun Yan, Yihai Zhu, Yufei Tang, among others.

Their National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project has focused on how to secure the Smart Grid against cyber-physical threats that could paralyze the power system and damage the country’s public interest. The studies have drawn attention from academia, industry, and government labs across the globe, providing broad impacts to the society, including a cover page paper [3] in the IEEE Transaction on Information and Forensic Security (also selected among the Best Readings on Communications and Information Systems Security), plus an IEEE International Conference on Communications (ICC ’14) Best Paper Award [4].

The above video, provided by the URI Smart Grid Security team, demonstrates a series of outages that cascade across the San Francisco Bay area and paralyze over 70% of the regional power transmission network. A single failure was initially triggered on a substation located between Santa Rosa and Napa County. Through the illustrative visualization, the original grid under normal operation (shown in black) has been knocked down by the propagation of a series of failures (shown in red) that leads to a regional power outage (shown in blue). This demo has illustratively and intuitively visualized the cyber-physical security issues in the power system that could face various security challenges.

The visualization platform was developed in ArcGIS, the leading professional GIS software in industry, with the up-to-date power grid data from POWERMap [5]. The propagation of failure was simulated using a dedicated system model based on complex network theory, and the platform can be easily adapted to a variety of power system models.

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[1] Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2014

[2] Fox News, March 13, 2014

[3] Jun Yan, et al. "Multi-contingency cascading analysis of smart grid based on self-organizing map." IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security, 8 (4), 646 – 656, April 2013

[4] Y. Zhu, et al. "The Sequential Attack against Power Grid Networks," in Proc. IEEE Int. Con. Communications (ICC'14), pp. 616-621, Sydney, Australia, June 10-14, 2014


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