SCALABLE Networks CEO Spotlight: Securing Cyber-Physical Systems - Cyber-Hardening for Critical Infrastructure Systems

The SCALABLE CEO Blog Series continues the important discussion around cyber resilience and cyber security today, with a piece authored by SCALABLE CEO Dr. Rajive Bagrodia. Bagrodia discusses the emergence of threats for cyber-physical systems and a proposed strategy to mitigate security breaches to the system. Stay tuned to the SCALABLE Tuesday Talk Blog Series for a continuous stream of valuable information in the areas of network simulation, cybersecurity, and predictable communications.

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPSs) are the new soft target for cyber criminals. A typical CPS includes a network of sensors, actuators and controllers connected to a remote operations center. CPS’s may include things such as power grids, autonomous vehicle systems, medical monitoring systems, process control systems, and aircraft autopilots. Many such CPS’s rapidly leverage Internet-connectivity to enhance operating efficiencies and to provide new services to their customers.  Unfortunately, the enhancements come with a serious downside – an increased susceptibility to cyber-attacks.  If successful, attacks on a CPS can cause wide-spread disruption of commerce and daily life. 

The operations of a CPS (as well as Industrial Control Systems or SCADA systems) typically require regular communication and feedback between the sensors and the monitoring or control units; these interactions have stringent timing constraints. For example, the IEC61850 standard, which is the global standard for electrical substations, requires that certain control messages be delivered within 3 ms in order to protect the grid. Even minor perturbations to the timing or contents of such messages can cause serious repercussions. A message communication between a sensor located at a generator and the control center can be ‘hacked’, causing disruptions in service or equipment breakdowns.  If the contents of the message are corrupted, it can cause the CPS controller to under-estimate the quantity of power being generated. In another case, a ‘man-in-the-middle’ or denial-of-service attack might cause the loss or simply delayed receipt of a ‘shut down’ message from a controller to an actuator, possibly leading to cascading equipment malfunction on parts of the grid.

So how does the operator of a CPS assess its vulnerability to known and zero-day attacks to prevent a Ukraine-like scenario?  How can they assess what defensive mechanisms are most effective in blocking the attack or mitigating the impact of a successful penetration? Digital twins using advanced simulation technology offer a low-risk and high ROI solution by creating an integrated model of the communication network and the physical system. The digital twin is used to replicate specific environments in a lab where multiple “what if” scenarios can be quickly evaluated to assess the impact of a wide variety of cyber threats on operations of the CPS. Alternately, the network digital twin can be directly connected with live sensors and control units to provide a powerful training capability for operators to deal with potential cyber threats to critical infrastructures.

SCALABLE has developed EXata for Cyber-Physical Systems (EXata CPS) to support the creation of such digital twins. Specifically, EXata CPS integrates with OPAL-RT’s power simulators to allow synchronized emulation of communication systems and power grid components. Operators such as the New York Power Authority (NYPA), along with others, have successfully implemented the EXata solution to improve the efficiency of their infrastructure systems, while at the same time advancing the reliability of their grid. 

Learn more about how EXata has been used to benefit our customers.

Written by Dr. Rajive Bagrodia. As founder and CEO of SCALABLE Network Technologies (SCALABLE), Dr. Bagrodia is a thought leader in the field of modeling and simulation, test and analysis, and assessment of the resiliency and impact of cyber threats on large scale networks. 

About the Author

About The Author: 
Dr. Rajive Bagrodia is the Founder and CEO of Scalable Network Technologies, Inc. and an Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at UCLA. Previously, Dr. Bagrodia served as a Professor of Computer Science at UCLA, where he led a research group in mobile computing and parallel and distributed programming that produced simulation systems such as Maisie, Parsec, and GloMoSim. His research was supported by large, multi-investigator grants from federal agencies including DARPA and NSF. Dr. Bagrodia founded SCALABLE Network Technologies in the wake of significant innovations his research group achieved in the theory and practice of performance prediction for complex, large-scale computer and communication systems. Today, SCALABLE is recognized as a global leader in the development of advanced simulation technology and in its application to enhance cyber resilience of commercial and military systems. Dr. Bagrodia received a Bachelor of Technology in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and a PhD degree in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin. He has published over 175 research papers in Computer Science journals and at international conferences on high performance computing, wireless networking, and parallel simulation.