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Merit Researchers Participate in NSF-funded Smart Grid Project

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Merit Network researchers are leading an investigative project that is exploring cyber threats against critical infrastructure, including the modernized electric grid—the Smart Grid. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Program and is Merit’s first NSF-funded project since the NSFNET.
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“This grant represents a great step forward for Merit’s research program,” said Joe Adams, vice president of research and cyber security for Merit. “Not only are we leading an important academic program, we are also able to involve two of our governing members, Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan. We are looking forward to the collaboration with the universities and NextEnergy, which will build a solid foundation for future grants and academic ventures.”

The Smart Grid integrates two-way communication technologies across power generation, transmission and distribution, in order to deliver electricity efficiently, securely and cost-effectively. It also employs real-time monitoring via a messaging-based advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which ensures the grid’s stability and reliability, as well as the efficient implementation of demand response schemes to mitigate bursts of electricity demand. The efficient implementation of these features presents a number of challenges, but also offers opportunities for technology development in engineering, networking, and data analytics.

One key challenge is that real-time messaging exposes the entire grid to security threats, ranging from attacks that disable information exchange between smart meters and data fusion centers, to spoofed payload content that would lead to an incorrect assessment of the actual demand. Such nefarious data plane activities can compromise the grid’s stability, reliability and efficiency. Hence, it is important to secure these communications and quickly detect malicious activity.

Merit is leading a team that includes faculty and reseachers from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. The team, along with partners from industry, will study algorithms and methods for the fast detection of problems related to the Smart Grid.

This project will leverage the multi-view capabilities of the AMI technology and will investigate an integrated smart grid analytics framework that identifies grid anomalies using correlative monitoring. The proposed system combines evidence from several sensors and aims to quickly infer anomalies. At the home-area level, it identifies anomalies that originate from malware-infecting smart appliances, energy theft or other failures. At the wide-area level (neighborhood, citywide), it analyzes AMI data to infer smart meter anomalies that signify a coordinated, well-orchestrated attack on system nodes.

Dr. Michael Kallitsis, research scientist at Merit and one of the projects’s principal investigators, believes that the project will offer significant contributions to society.

“The home-area network proof-of-concept will be implemented with low-cost, widely accessible devices, which would support its widespread adoption. In addition, the team will develop a wide-area network testbed that would provide a rich platform to different scientific communities (security, machine learning, energy management, power engineering) for assessing the impact of developed solutions to the problem. Finally, the project team will share carefully curated data sets accompanied with annotated events with the scientific community and incorporate project outcomes into undergraduate and graduate curricula,” Kallitsis said.

About Merit Network

Merit Network Inc., is a nonprofit corporation owned and governed by Michigan’s public universities. Merit owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit Network has remained at the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking and IT solutions to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

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