cybersecurity

In Canada, a team of researchers have received a $2.1m grant to establish new ways of protecting Quebec’s high-tech power grid system from cyber attacks.The researchers from Concordia University will focus their research efforts on cybersecurity and power systems.

“This is of paramount importance,” said Mourad Debbabi, the Concordia University research chair in information security systems.

“There are vulnerabilities and threats that can lead to major consequences.”

Debbabi will lead a team of some 25 researchers, working along industry co-sponsors Hydro-Québec and Thales, to lead the charge in what is still an emerging area of cybersecurity. [NIST releases IoT cybersecurity guidelines]

Their goal will be to make the smart grids of the province’s power supplier more secure, Debbabi said.

“This is happening, it’s already a concern,” he added.

Ukraine example

Local media has referenced the power outage in Ukraine last December that affected 230,000 customers - the result of a cyber attack - believed to be the “first known successful cyber intrusion to knock a power grid offline.”

“Operators of a power control centre could just watch helplessly as hackers seized control of their computer cursors and took down 30 substations and two power distribution centres,” said a local report. [DoE issues funding for cybersecurity R&D]

“Cybersecurity is something that interests us a lot,” said Jérôme Gosset, general manager of IREQ, Hydro-Québec’s research institute.

“Ensuring continuity of service is important to us,” he said.

Debbabi said it’s important to understand as much as possible about the “threat landscape.” Research will focus on prevention as well as how to detect, mitigate and recover from such attacks. [Smart grid cybersecurity market to grow 10% by 2020]

Concordia has seven full-time faculty members with expertise in cybersecurity.  The grant will cement Concordia’s leadership in a new area of research, Debbabi said, and will improve the overall security of Quebec’s power system.