Resilient Framework with Authentication, Key Management, and Data Collection for Energy Sensors in Energy Distribution Networks

Activity Leads: 
Industry Collaborators: 
  • Currently seeking collaborators from industry, power utilities, or national labs who would like to collaborate with us on trusted sensor networks that allow access to the information about the situation awareness and health of power, oil and gas physical infrastructures (power lines, gas pipelines, refineries).
  • Contact Klara Nahrstedt to discuss how we can exchange ideas or collaborate with our team.
Summary Statement: 

Resiliency in Energy Delivery Systems (EDS) is a big challenge. For example, in the EDS distribution system for oil and gas, since the pipelines are usually buried underground (e.g., in city gas distribution network), it is hard to perform periodic inspection without a maintenance dig. But, such digs are not scalable, and are costly in terms of human effort. Digital sensing is a promising replacement to a maintenance dig. Such sensors can be deployed inside or outside a pipeline to perform measurement of pressure, temperature and presence of hydrocarbons, and thus detect pipeline failures. In the case of power-lines, similar challenges exist as with pipelines and gas-lines where digital sensors are deployed to enable monitoring of health of power-lines. Nevertheless, such sensors are vulnerable to failures and attacks. On one hand, it is often the case that when damage happens to the pipeline, either these sensors become unresponsive at the same time, or they send false information. Furthermore, data reported by sensors is subject to eavesdropping and tampering by attackers.

In this activity, we focus on developing a resiliency framework for sensors networks and data collection in Energy Distribution Networks (EDN). This is a large space since this resiliency framework includes different dimensions of the end-to-end resilience framework. The resiliency framework includes authentication protocols and real-time key management for different sensors (e.g., valves, pumps, gas meters) and diverse O&G network topologies, as well as  context-aware adaptive routing and transmission protocols for collecting control data from sensors to ensure resilient data collection under failures.

This activity is a long-term activity and will be solved in systematic phases:

Phase 1: Investigate resilience (authentication, key management, trusted data collection) for energy sensors which are wirelessly connected in a tree formation for gas, oil pipelines, and power-lines.

Phase 2: Investigate resilience for networks of energy sensors in other wireless sensor topologies and evaluate which topologies are most robust for gas, oil pipelines and power-lines.

Phase 3: Investigate resiliency and security in the monitoring system for energy sensors, with an emphasis on authentication, provenance, and verification techniques.

The ultimate goal is to create a resiliency framework for energy sensors in energy delivery physical infrastructures. The framework considers gas, oil, and power-grid networks where the energy sensors provide the insights into the health of the energy physical infrastructures such as networks of gas & oil pipelines, and power-lines, and energy usage network, even in the presence of a cyber-attack on the EDS infrastructure. The results of the resilient framework are protocols and software functions for sensors, as well as algorithms to provide appropriate placement of sensors over different oil & gas topologies where sensor nodes have various capabilities. These results can be parts of planning tools. For example, one planning tool could be as follows. We take a pipeline topology with different sensor network capabilities and failures types, and after running the planning tool, we can visualize where weak points may occur if certain sensor placement over given topology is employed, and what sensor measurements one can see under given failures and attacks if our resilient protocols would be deployed.

Energy Delivery System (EDS) Gap Analysis: 

Although sensors are widely deployed in EDS (transmission and distribution, oil & gas networks), the sensors, i.e., energy-specific cyber-metadata collectors, are themselves vulnerable to failure and attacks. If the EDS is attacked, these sensors become unresponsive, with the result that either the incident cannot be reported to the control center, or they reveal false information.

This activity addresses physical failures and cyber-attack-induced failures in EDS sensor and secure data collection networks by designing an authentication and data collection framework so as to enhance the responsiveness of EDS sensors (e.g., valves and pumps in transmission O&G networks and SCADA gas meters in distribution O&G networks).

Reference the research activity fact sheet (PDF) for an extended gap analysis and bibliography.

How does this research activity address the Roadmap to Achieve Energy Delivery Systems Cybersecurity?
Our resilient framework addresses the “development and implementation of new protective measures to reduce risk” as well as “sustainability of security improvements” in the road map.

New protective measures to reduce risks: With our resilient framework, we are developing new protocols among sensor networks and new software primitives residing within sensors, which collect sensor measurements from oil pipelines and forward these to the data collection nodes and control centers for an operator to assess the health of pipelines. The new protocols and software functions utilize new capabilities such as different ranges of wireless network technology (e.g., some of the sensors have short-range transmission capabilities, some sensors have long-range transmission capabilities) and we investigate the placement of sensors with different transmission capabilities with the ultimate goals of resiliency against physical damage or cyber-attacks on sensors. Furthermore, the new protocols and functions utilize new capabilities such as “array of things” where multiple IoT (Internet of Things) devices (e.g., temperature, pressure, GPS, wind velocity) cluster together in one sensor node (box) of the pipeline sensor network, providing auxiliary information to each other. This approach allows the sensors to achieve  better resilience against failures because not all IOT devices may be attacked at the same time or fail at the same time. Hence, each sensor node with multiple IoT devices has diverse contextual information to make advanced decisions how to route if some IoT devices fail.

Security improvements:  One important aspect of introducing array of things as a sensor node is that one can upgrade the sensor node gradually by replacing individual IoT devices and sustain security improvements as IoT device technology advances.

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