College of Engineering & Mines

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UND receives U.S. Department of Energy funding for cybersecurity initiative

UND researchers will work collaboratively on DOE grant to develop a software tool to protect the nation’s power grid

cybersecurity researchers in lab
Prakash Ranganathan, associate professor of Electrical Engineering, and director of the Center for Cyber Security Research at the UND College of Engineering & Mines (left), Jamison Jangula, a cybersecurity analyst at the College of Engineering & Mines, and graduate student Shree Ram Abayankar Balaji stand in the lab where they conduct cybersecurity research. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

UND is among a group of universities, utility companies and national laboratories that have received federal funding to enhance the security of the nation’s electrical power grid.

The award comes from the U.S. Department of Energy and will be used by UND researchers to develop algorithms for a cybersecurity software tool to help distributed energy resources (DERs) securely participate in wholesale energy markets. DERs include solar and wind power generation methods, as well as other devices such as electric vehicle chargers. These devices, which are usually connected to the internet, require additional cybersecurity measures as they are increasingly added to power grids across the country.

In total, the DOE has awarded $39 million for nine projects that advance the cybersecurity of DERs. Each project is attached to a National Laboratory, which will work with a specific group of research universities, utility providers and other industry partners.

The cybersecurity project in which UND is participating is attached to the Illinois-based Argonne National Laboratory. In addition to UND, the other research participants are Iowa State University, Kevala (a data analytics company working with electrical grid operators) and ComED (a utility provider serving more than 4 million customers in northern Illinois). The research group has been awarded nearly $3.5 million for the project, with UND’s portion of the grant being $517,000.

“This is a very timely grant,” Prakash Ranganathan, associate professor of Electrical Engineering, and director of the Center for Cyber Security Research at the UND College of Engineering & Mines. “The DOE really wants to address this growing network of distributed energy resources, which manes we need to develop realistic attack threats and evaluate the software-based solutions. This requires significant inputs from stakeholders including national labs, electric utilities and research universities.”

Brian Tande, dean of the UND College of Engineering & Mines, said the grant advances UND efforts to expand its cybersecurity efforts.

“This new project is well-aligned with the College of Engineering & Mines efforts to grow our capabilities in cybersecurity research,” he said. “Dr. Ranganathan has done an excellent job of leading that initiative for the college. We’re proud that the DOE has recognized the expertise of Dr. Ranganathan and the larger team and will support this important project to help ensure the security of our energy systems.”

Ranganathan said the idea is to develop a software tool that can address cyber-attacks on DERs, which can be deployed across electrical grids. As the nation moves toward a zero-emissions policy for electrical utilities, more and more DERs (wind power turbines and solar operations as well as EV charging stations for both at-home and public usage) are being added to power grids, this also increases the need for DERs to operate securely across electrical grids.

This DOE grant is one of the most recent efforts at UND to enhance its cybersecurity undertakings. In mid-October, Ranganathan and Jamison Jangula, a cybersecurity analyst at the College of Engineering & Mines, were invited by the DOE to serve on a panel at the 12th annual GridSecCon event in Quebec City, Canada. The conference is a forum for researchers to share information on securing the North American bulk power system. This year’s conference was co-hosted by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center (E-ISAC), and the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC).

Such collaborative efforts have also continued on the UND campus, with the third annual Cyber Awareness and Research Symposium (CARS), held on Oct. 30 in the Memorial Union. The symposium, founded by Ranganathan, brought together about 200 participants from nine different countries with the goal of sharing the latest cybersecurity research, and offered a networking platform for industry professionals. The Symposium also offered the opportunity to highlight student research through research posters into cybersecurity efforts.


Written by Adam Kurtz  //  UND Today