Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and Visgence Inc. have developed a new technology – C3D – to detect and block cyberattacks from impacting the U.S. power grid.
According to INL program manager Jake Gentle, the Constrained Cyber Communication Device (C3D) has been designed to alert operators when it comes across abnormal commands and block them automatically, thus helping prevent cyber criminals from accessing and damaging critical power grid components.
The C3D device uses advanced communication capabilities to autonomously review and filter commands being sent to protective relay devices, which many consider to be the heart and soul of a nation’s power grid.
Relays are designed to rapidly command breakers to turn off the flow of electricity when a disturbance is detected.
They for instance prevent expensive equipment from being damaged when a power line fails because of a severe storm.
Relays aren’t however designed to block the speed and stealthiness of a cyberattack which can send wild commands to grid equipment in a matter of milliseconds.
There is hence a dire need for an intelligent and automatic filtering technology like C3D to prevent such kinds of attack from happening, notes Gentle:
“The C3D device sits deep inside a utility’s network, monitoring and blocking cyberattacks before they impact relay operations.”
To test C3D’s effectiveness, Gentle and his team spent nearly a year collaborating with industry experts, including longtime partners from Power Engineers.
The laboratory and the Department of Energy (DOE) also established an industry advisory board consisting of federal and private power grid and cybersecurity experts.
After thoroughly assessing industry needs and analyzing the makeup of modern cyber threats, The INL and Visgence team designed an electronic device that could be wired into a protective relay’s communication network.
They then constructed a 36-foot mobile substation and connected it to INL’s full-scale electric power grid test bed to establish an at-scale power grid environment.
Once the entire system was online, the scientists sent a sudden power spike command to the substation relays and monitored the effects from a nearby command center.
Results show the C3D device was able to instantly block the command and prevent the attack from damaging the larger grid.
Gentle contends that the C3D and an associated software package will undergo further testing before it is been made available to the private industry.
Image and content: Chris Morgan/Idaho National Laboratory