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Protecting the real electrical grid by attacking a simulated one (part 1)

On 11 May, SDN-microSENSE project members gathered at SINTEF Energy Research in Trondheim to test Use Case 1: Investigation of Cyberattack Scenarios and Methodologies Against EPES. We took the opportunity to talk to Project Coordinator Alfredo González Naranjo (Ayesa) and Sokratis Katsikas (the Norwegian University of Science and Technology – NTNU) about the aims of the use case, the value of European collaboration, and the importance of cybersecurity for electrical power and energy systems (EPES) in an increasingly digital society.

We will publish their responses in three parts (this is the first one). 

The more digital we become, the more vulnerable we are to cyberattacks

The electrical grid is a critical infrastructure in society. As such, it is crucial that it is protected from cyberattacks. When considering the threat of cyberattacks on this scale, it is difficult to not think of current events: namely, the invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions between Russia and NATO. However, concerns about cyberattacks cannot be attributed to current events alone.

“As we move towards a digital transformation of industry, the likelihood of cyberattacks increases,” says Sokratis. “For example, Norway is a highly digitalised society in many aspects, so we know what it means if one of these services we enjoy today is somehow broken down by a cyberattack. You can imagine how this can also apply to digitalised industry, in our case, the power network. The more digital we become, the more vulnerable we are to cyberattacks.”

However, cybersecurity isn’t just about protecting the system against cyberattacks.

“I think the other important point is privacy,” Alfredo adds. “Personal data privacy for clients, such as electric utility companies. It’s very important to ensure that the communication data between different systems is correct so that they don’t suffer any attacks and you can’t gather anyone’s personal data.”

The need to protect personal data privacy in electrical grids can also be attributed to society’s digital transformation.

“We have to consider that all processes are digital: when you measure the energy consumption of houses, when you receive your electricity bill… all the calculations of these processes are digital. So you have to ensure that there is no problem with personal data,” says Alfredo.

Alfredo González, Image: Sondre Aksnes YggesethNaranjo
Sokratis Katsikas, Image: Sondre Aksnes Yggeseth

Put simply, cybersecurity in the electrical grid ensures that when you flip your light switch, your light will turn on or off. But it also stops anyone else from controlling your light remotely or gathering information, such as how long your light is turned on or how many times it’s turned on and off, without you knowing.

Text by: Jessica Scott (SINTEF Energy Research)

Photos by: Sondre Aksnes Yggeseth (SINTEF Energy Research)

The blog is also published in the website of SINTEF