Idaho National Laboratory and POWER partner to strengthen cybersecurity

Posted at 4:23 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 09:09:08-05

IDAHO — Telecommunication systems, water treatment facilities, and power grids - some of the nation's most critical infrastructures are essential to our everyday lives.

POWER Engineers Inc. and the Idaho National Laboratory partnered together and with other industry experts to strengthen cybersecurity for the nation's electrical power grid.

Funded by the DOE's Office of Electricity, Idaho National Laboratory is developing two different technologies to enhance protective substation relays' ability. This will detect and isolate possible cybersecurity threats.

Relays help keep the power system stable, detect abnormal operating conditions, automatically isolate only the parts under fault, and leave as much of the network running as possible.

Idaho has a significant amount of critical infrastructure like the Capitol or even the National Guard, which could be compromised by a cybersecurity threat.

"So, just locally, we're working to be able to prevent adversaries from compromising that infrastructure through the development of these solutions," Idaho National Laboratory Program Manager Jake Gentle said.

Idaho National Laboratory and POWER Engineers are working on two technologies. The Master Fault Detector (MFD) and Protective Relay Permissive Communications (PRPC) could help prevent a malicious attack.

"The ultimate goal for all of this work is to help protect the grid from cyberattacks intruder attacks that are happening with more frequency as we add more equipment to the grid," POWER Senior Project Engineer Jeff Pack said.

PRPC provides filtering that transitions protective relay equipment in a limited form so only the essential relay and business functions operate. This will reduce the chance of a malicious act or command getting past the relay and into the electric grid.

MFD methodology and solution serves as a single check on a power and communications system's current state. MFD has built-in software to report the real-time status of a power and communications system's condition, which can provide immediate attention to a situation that could be part of a cyberattack.

"Master fault detector is going to look around at the physics around how the system is interacting."

Also, MFD will look at commands, control functions and more, determining if a disturbance to the system results from something like a tree falling on a power line.

"Or if it's adversarial activity interrupting normal communications between devices and they're making the system think that there's a tree on the power line causing the fault," Gentle said.

The power grid continues to grow rapidly with new power resources like solar and wind.

"Having proper security program in place to protect those devices is really important," Pack said.

"Not only are we working on solutions for today, but we're also really looking at solutions and gaps and solutions to those gaps for the future," Gentle said.