Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Canadian university lands $2m grant to protect smart grids

Steve Rogerson
December 7, 2016

Concordia University has received $2.165m over five years to research cyber security threats to Quebec’s power systems. The funding was awarded by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through its Industrial Research Chairs programme.
Mourad Debbabi, professor in the Canadian university’s Faculty of Engineering & Computer Science and research chair in information systems security, was named principal chairholder and will work alongside industry co-sponsors Hydro-Québec and Thales to conduct research into Quebec’s power grid system. The aim is to protect the province’s power supplier from the threat of attacks on its cyber-physical system. These systems encompass software, communication technology and sensors that interact with the real world.
“I’ve worked actively with the industry over the last few years to put this research programme into place; it’s a great pleasure to now be in a position to execute what we’ve envisaged,” said Debbabi. “I have no doubt it will strengthen Concordia’s already prominent cyber-security task force and concretise our leadership in the area both nationally and internationally.”
Debbabi will lead a team of about 25 researchers, professors, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and industry experts in exploring smart grid technologies and protocols to come up with new cyber-threat detection, prevention, mitigation and recovery methods to enhance the overall security of Quebec’s power system.
“The Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE) has a long-standing reputation as a valuable collaborator alongside government and business partners pursuing research in the field of cyber security,” said Concordia president Alan Shepard. “This latest partnership will further advance developments that will protect against the threats to cyber safety and economic losses posed by attacks against power networks.”
Justin Powlowski, Concordia’s interim vice-president of research and graduate studies, said the focus of both Debbabi’s research, as well as the mission of the CIISE, was to provide an interdisciplinary approach to research on information systems applied to all engineering disciplines.
“Concordia is emerging as a leader in investigating cyber attacks, and devising and refining cyber-security reinforcements,” he said. “In fact, the CIISE was one of the first programmes in Canada to fully specialise in cyber security.”
Representatives from co-sponsors Hydro-Québec and Thales are confident that the industrial research chair in enhancing smart grid security will further develop knowledge to protect crucial public services such as hospitals, police stations, banks and other organisations with computerised systems.
Hydro-Québec’s system is becoming increasingly automated. The company is adding functions to make it even more productive, so it can, for example, adapt to real-time operating conditions, more easily integrate renewables and increase potential interaction with its customers.
“Integrating more intelligence into the network does of course mean increased cyber-security challenges,” said Jérôme Gosset, general manager of IREQ, Hydro-Québec’s research institute. “The new chair announced today will help advance current knowledge and develop new knowledge on cyber security applied to large power systems, which will benefit Hydro-Québec.”
Siegfried Usal, vice-president of strategy for Thales, added: “As a world leader in cyber security, Thales is committed to protecting critical infrastructure from increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks through best in class cyber-security technologies, by addressing the entire data security chain from security consulting or data protection to intrusion detection and security supervision through cyber-security operation centres. This partnership with Concordia will allow us to develop new talents in the field of cyber security and explore more ways of guaranteeing network resilience in the face of emerging threats.”
Concordia has seven full-time faculty members with core expertise in cyber security and specialised master's programmes in information systems security with more than 150 graduate students enrolled. More than 60 members are actively pursuing research in the Cyber Security Research Centre. Their work examines a variety of issues from cyber security and cyber-physical security to cyber forensics and privacy protection.
“In view of the rapid development of smart grid technologies to replace the traditional power grid framework, the work of Debbabi’s interdisciplinary team will provide invaluable research on improving cyber security in smart grid systems and reducing associated security vulnerabilities,” said Amir Asif, the dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering & Computer Science. “The CIISE remains an international leader in investigating cyber attacks and enhancing network privacy.”
The picture is © Concordia University.