Cybersecurity Solutions for Active Power Distribution Networks

An active distribution network (ADN) is an electrical-power distribution network that implements a real-time monitoring and control of the electrical resources and the grid. Effective monitoring and control is realised by deploying a large number of sensing and actuating devices and a communication network to facilitates the two-way transfer of data. The reliance of ADN operations on a large number of electronic devices and on communication networks poses a challenge in protecting the system against cyber-attacks. Identifying these challenges and commissioning appropriate solutions is of utmost importance to realize the full potential of a smart grid that seamlessly integrates distributed generation, such as renewable energy sources. As a first step, we perform a thorough threat analysis of a typical ADN. We identify potential threats against field devices, the communication infrastructure and servers at control centers. We also propose a check-list of security solutions and best practices that guarantee a distribution network's resilient operation in the presence of malicious attackers, natural disasters, and other unintended failures that could potentially lead to islanded communication zone. For the next step, we investigate the security of MPLS-TP, a technology that is mainly used for long-distance inter-domain communication in smart grid. We find that an MPLS-TP implementation in Cisco IOS has serious security vulnerabilities in two of its protocols, BFD and PSC. These two protocols control protection-switching features in MPLS-TP. In our test-bed, we demonstrate that an attacker who has physical access to the network can exploit the vulnerabilities in order to inject forged BFD or PSC messages that affect the network's availability. Third, we consider multicast source authentication for synchrophasor data communication in grid monitoring systems (GMS). Ensuring source authentication without violating the stringent real-time requirement of GMS is challenging. Through an extensive review of existing schemes, we identified a set of schemes that satisfy some desirable requirements for GMS. The identified schemes are ECDSA, TV-HORS and Incomplete- key-set. We experimentally compared these schemes using computation, communication and key management overheads as performance metrics. A tweak in ECDSA's implementation to make it use pre-generated tokens to generate signatures significantly improves the computation overhead of ECDSA, making it the preferred scheme for GMS. This finding is contrary to the generally accepted view that asymmetric cryptography is inapplicable for real-time systems. Finally, we studied a planning problem that arises when a utility wants to roll out a software patch that requires rebooting to all PMUs while maintaining system observability. The problem we address is how to find a partitioning of the set of the deployed PMUs into as few subsets as possible such that all the PMUs in one subset can be patched in one round while all the PMUs in the other subsets provide full observability. We show that the problem is NP-complete in the general case and and formulated it as binary integer linear programming (BILP) problem. We have also provided an heuristic algorithm to find an approximate solution. Furthermore, we have identified a special case of the problem where the grid is a tree and provided a polynomial-time algorithm that finds an optimal patching plan that requires only two rounds to patch the PMUs.

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