As the modern power grid employs increasingly complex devices, operational methods, and communication networks, new methods are required in order to maintain the reliability, resiliency, and efficiency that we require from our power infrastructure. Today, a vital issue in power system reliability is maintenance of the network’s cyber security. A cyber attack on power system protection and control devices could result in critical power disruption and/or damaged equipment. Appropriately designed and implemented cyber security measures aim to prevent and survive cyber incidents while sustaining the critical functions of the power system.

The RTDS Simulator is used worldwide as a crucial component of cyber security testbeds, in which the simulated power system can be connected to real protection, control, and measurement equipment and subjected to both intentional and unintentional cyber events. This provides a realistic, flexible, and contained environment for the validation of energy system security technologies.

Real Time Simulation in a Cyber Security Testbed


Cyber Security Applications

Cyber and physical fault injection analysis

Coordinated cyber-physical attack assessment

Testing of PMU operation with low-integrity data

Benign and malicious control action analysis

GPS spoofing detection and mitigation studies

State estimation robustness studies

Quantum cryptography applications

Contingency-based shipboard power system reconfiguration

Man in the Middle (MITM) attack simulation

Denial of Service (DoS) attack simulation

User Case Studies

Aurora Attack Re-Simulation

Washington State University, USA

In 2007, Idaho National Laboratories ran the Aurora Generator Test, demonstrating the potential for a cyber attack to cause major damage to physical components of the power grid. In the experiment, a 2.25 MW diesel generator was connected to a substation, and a protective relay controlling the generator’s breaker was accessed via a digital interface. An attacker proceeded to open and close the breakers out of phase from the grid. Each time the breakers were closed out of sync, the torque from the synchronization caused the generator to undergo severe mechanical stress. The unit was destroyed in a matter of minutes. As the failure of even a single generator is a serious concern due to potential cascading failure (as seen in the Northeast blackout of 2003), prevention and mitigation of such attacks is a critical research area.

The cyber security testbed at Washington State University was used to re-simulate the attack. Real time simulation via the RTDS Simulator provides a safe and flexible environment to reproduce and alter these attack scenarios. The IEEE 14 bus system was simulated in real time, with the breaker at Bus 2 accessed by the attacker.

The attack was simulated by overlaying a security model on the communication network layer of the testbed. The security model was implemented using discrete-event network simulator NS3.

The impact on the machine due to the attack is shown below. It can be seen from the simulation results that the machine is subjected to high mechanical stress due to the out of sync reclosing and will suffer physical damage if attack is repeated.

Simulation of Man in the Middle Attack on PMU Data

TCIPG / University of Illinois, USA

Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIPG) is supported by the U.S. Departments of Energy and Homeland Security and is comprised of four partner universities. Under these efforts, the Information Trust Institute at the University of Illinois operates a large-scale cyber-physical testbed including an RTDS Simulator, a wide range of relays, PMUS and PDCs, substation computers, security gateways, and data analytics and visualization tools. The testbed has been used for various cyber security research projects, including fault injection analysis, coordinated attack assessment, GPS spoofing, and more. Because many utilities still use IEEE C37.118 via normal UDP protocol to transmit PMU data – with no cyber protection controls integrated – mitigation of Man in the Middle (MITM) attacks is an important research area.

The MITM attack setup is shown below. The attacker uses ARP spoofing to poison the communication endpoints (the PDC and control centre) so that the local PDC sends data intended for the control centre to the attacker’s computer. The attacker manipulates each IEEE C37.118-based data packet by changing the payload, which in this case is synchrophasor data related to the calculation of the voltage stability assessment index for the local power system.

Various attack methods and data manipulations were simulated. In one case, manipulated phasor data at multiple buses caused two additional, unnecessary load shedding actions to be taken by the control system. The figure below shows the resulting voltage angle difference between the control centre and substation views for various events, including increasing real and/or reactive power loading, connecting shunt capacitor banks, and load shedding.

Cyber Security Competition at Kaspersky Labs, Russia

Our extensive list of technical publications contains published papers related to this topic.