College receives $1 mil. Department of Energy grant for cybersecurity research

by Megan Clyne | 10/20/15 7:09pm

On Oct. 9, the College received a $925,000 grant from the Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium to develop cyber-secure energy delivery systems for the electric power and oil and gas industries, the College announced. This funding comes from the United States Department of Energy.

This grant is a part of the newly-created CREDC’s $28.1 million project to create secure cyber networks for the nation’s energy delivery systems. The consortium, spearheaded by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is composed of 11 universities and national laboratories. The College has been involved in the project since its inception a decade ago.

Associate director of the College’s Institute for Security, Technology and Society Bill Nisen said that the consortium aims to ensure a safe, secure cyber environment for students, faculty and staff. The College was selected to be a part of the consortium for three main reasons: its previous high-quality work, its focus on research and its quick-thinking student body.

Over the past five years, doctoral and master’s students at the College have done successful work with the University of Illinois to protect the electric grid structure of the U.S., Nisen said. The University of Illinois needed security specialization, and Dartmouth was able to provide services to support that need, ISTS director and computer science professor Sean Smith said.

Smith is one of two primary researchers and major representatives of the initiative, along with ISTS chief security advisor and computer science professor Sergey Bratus.

The computer science department and ISTS have been in a consortium with the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid, CREDC’s predecessor, for the past 10 years, Nisen said.

Over the last 16 years, the Department of Energy has funded numerous research efforts at the College, Nisen said.

Nisen said that the ability of Dartmouth students to look for patterns and anticipate solutions to problems not yet emerged made the College a prime candidate for receiving the grant.

“We are very fortunate to be part of the consortium and surrounded by intelligent, forward-looking individuals,” Nisen said.

In the energy department’s announcement of the CREDC grant, it said that the $28.1 million is predicted to significantly improve the protection of the U.S. electric grid and oil and natural gas infrastructure from cyber attack.

Dartmouth research funded by the grant will focus on the intersection between cyber and physical systems as well as the network implication of the Internet of Things, the network of physical objects embedded within electronics and software, by collecting and analyzing data, Nisen said. It will also examine the frequently overlooked importance of the protective aspects of devices, not just the functional ones.

Smith and Bratus said that the goal of the cybersecurity initiative is to make energy systems more secure and resilient. Nisen also said that in today’s age, protection from danger is more complicated than just constructing a moat or higher wall.

“How dangerous is it out there? It’s dangerous,” Nisen said. “Breaches are happening all the time. There is a constant dynamic between people looking to breach information and people trying to prevent that breach.”

Smith said that there are unique security problems that occur when resource constrained power devices are distributed throughout the power chain.

“What we want is a smart and secure grid,” Nisen said.

Nisen said that when he asked a group of Dartmouth students to identify one thing they couldn’t live without, they responded almost unanimously with “the internet.”

People must find ways to protect digital infrastructure, and this initiative is one of those ways, he said.