Consequences and Impacts

It’s important to recognize that adopting these advanced grid-control technologies doesn’t just have the potential to increase power grid reliability and resilience, but also provides adversaries with the tools they need to effectively disrupt power delivery. The increased likelihood of an attack requires greater investment in cyber-security countermeasures. Successful attacks that exploit these emerging technologies could disrupt power by

  • triggering automated PMU control schemes through subversion of synchronized timing systems,
  • executing unauthorized DER connection or operational settings changes,
  • maliciously using demand-response capabilities,
  • gaining unauthorized access to cloud-based PMU information to coordinate attack timing, or
  • intentionally misleading operators’ situational awareness,

to name but a few. Recognizing these threats and investing in appropriate cyber-security countermeasures will decrease the likelihood of successful attacks and ensure these technologies are only used to promote grid reliability rather than destroy it.

Current Efforts and Capabilities at Sandia

The Lemnos project developed specifications for cyber security in industrial control systems for electricity generation/transmission/distribution and for oil & gas pipelines and refineries. It became the is basis for an IEEE open standard (IEEE Working Group 2030.102).

The Lemnos project developed specifications for cyber security in industrial control systems for electricity generation/transmission/distribution and for oil & gas pipelines and refineries. It became the is basis for an IEEE open standard (IEEE Working Group 2030.102).

Sandia has leveraged capabilities to investigate cyber security in the infrastructure world. Sandia is well versed in control-system cyber security and has numerous capabilities and projects that involve cyber security for electric power system control systems. As a national lab, we have access to information about both national security requirements and adversary models that are generally unavailable to private-sector companies.

ANTFARM mapping output. Ant Farm passively maps existing grid control-system networks for vulnerability assessments.

ANTFARM mapping output. Ant Farm passively maps existing grid control-system networks for vulnerability assessments.

Additionally, Sandia has funds for high-risk, high-reward research projects, world-class research staff with expertise in the appropriate subject matter, and the tools and facilities required for state-of-the-art research activities. Sandia is focused on forward thinking, fundamental, and high-risk research into problem spaces regarding threats, consequences, and impacts in many areas of electric power, including PMUs, DERs, cloud computing, smart meters, programmable-logic controllers, and communications, among others. This translates to some observed future research areas related to control-system honey nets, cloud computing, virtualization, and analytics.

The majority of our current research and available tools involving grid cyber security are in the areas listed in the table.

Research Area Sandia Tools and Research
Risk-assessment tools based on consequence, threat analysis, and ease of attack pathway.
  • Supply chain risk management.
System assessment of cyber attacks based on interdependency analysis, modeling, simulation, and at-scale emulation.
  • Modeling and simulation capabilities to simulate, emulate, and include hardware in the loop to more effectively analyze potential impacts from cyber-attacks (SCEPTRE).
  • Reliability and performance modeling for grid systems using the Reliability Impacts due to Cyber Attacks (RICA) tool.
Development of reliable and resilient cyber architectures.
  • Development of cyber security architectures and frameworks, including some for microgrids.
Detailed vulnerability assessment of systems, devices, components, and procedures.
  • Vulnerability assessments and red teaming, including hardware tear downs of smart meters, programmable logic controllers, computers, vulnerability assessments of control system networks, and security policy reviews.
Technical controls that address specific risk and/or threats.
  • Research in dynamic defense for control system networks.
  • Embedded system device forensics (Weasel Board).