Researchers from the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering are collaborating to secure vulnerable infrastructure from online attacks. The team earned part of a $45 million DOE investment to develop tools and technologies to reduce cyber risks for energy infrastructure.

Georgia Tech is developing a new artificial intelligence (AI) based method to automatically find and stop threats to renewable energy and local generators for energy customers across the nation’s power grid.

The research will concentrate on protecting distributed energy resources (DER), which are most often used on low-voltage portions of the power grid. They can include rooftop solar panels, controllable electric vehicle chargers, and battery storage systems. 

The cybersecurity concern is that an attacker could compromise these systems and use them to cause problems across the electrical grid like, overloading components and voltage fluctuations. These issues are a national security risk and could cause massive customer disruptions through blackouts and equipment damage. 

“Cyber-physical critical infrastructures provide us with core societal functionalities and services such as electricity,” said Saman Zonouz, Georgia Tech associate professor and lead researcher for the project. 

“Our multi-disciplinary solution, DerGuard, will leverage device-level cybersecurity, system-wide analysis, and AI techniques for automated vulnerability assessment, discovery, and mitigation in power grids with emerging renewable energy resources.”

The project’s long-term outcome will be a secure, AI-enabled power grid solution that can search and protect the DER’s on its network from cyberattacks. 

“First, we will identify sets of critical DERs that, if compromised, would allow the attacker to cause the most trouble for the power grid,” said Daniel Molzahn, assistant professor at Georgia Tech. 

“These DERs would then be prioritized for analysis and patching any identified cyber problems. Identifying the critical sets of DERs would require information about the DERs themselves- like size or location- and the power grid. This way, the utility company or other aggregator would be in the best position to use this tool.”

Additionally, the team will establish a testbed with industry partners. They will then develop and evaluate technology applications to better understand the behavior between people, devices, and network performance.

Along with Zonouz and Molzahn, Georgia Tech faculty Wenke Lee, professor, and John P. Imlay Jr. chair in software, will also lead the team of researchers from across the country. 

The researchers are collaborating with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, the Idaho National Labs, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Fortiphyd Logic. Industry partners Network Perception, Siemens, and PSE&G will advise the researchers. 

The work will be carried out at Georgia Tech’s Cyber-Physical Security Lab (CPSec) within the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy (SCP) and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). 

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $45 million investment at the end of February for 16 cybersecurity initiatives. The projects will identify new cybersecurity tools and technologies designed to reduce cyber risks for energy infrastructure followed by tech-transfer initiatives. The DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) awarded $4.2 million for the Institute’s DerGuard project.