The body’s immune system is our best defense against viruses, infectious organisms, and disease. It is a complex system that detects, fights, and neutralizes pathogens in a manner that — when healthy — is quite impressive and effective. In fact, the remarkable structure and proficiency of our immunity are currently garnering attention from researchers who work outside biology and in the virtual world of machine learning and technology.
“We’re committed to building the world’s first industrial immune system that detects, locates, and neutralizes cyber threats just like the human immune system does with viruses that invade the body,” explained Justin John, Technology Director, Controls and Optimization, GE Global Research, in a recent press statement.
For example when a cold or flu virus enters the body, part of what makes the immune system so effective is its ability to first recognize something is wrong and then react to it. In a similar way, GE machines can use sensors to detect a potential cyber threat. The researchers plan to combine advanced machine learning and control algorithms with rigorous physics-based models to detect, locate, and ultimately mitigate cyber viruses and attacks.
This project is the result of a $12.6 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy. GE scientists plan to develop advanced cyber-protection and “immune-system” technologies that aim to halt attacks on critical power systems and assets — including wind farms.
In 2017, University of Tulsa researchers proved how easy it was to hack into wind farms around the United States. The researchers managed to gain access to a wind farm’s control system and successfully install software that would transmit false signals to the system. (read the article here).
That same year, the DOE made public a report that found more than a half-dozen “capability gaps” in the power sector’s ability to respond to a cyber attack on the electric grid (including an electric cybersecurity workforce, expertise, and supply chain).
As part of the DOE-funded project with GE and partners such as National Labs, $4.8 million is going toward field-tested, commercially viable cyber-protection systems that will enable wind farms to survive sophisticated attacks on the control systems of turbines. (GE Global is also working on safeguarding natural gas and quantum-computing systems against cyber attacks.)
The research will use artificial intelligence (AI) and control algorithms to detect and defeat cyber viruses and attacks on power operations.
“GE is doing this by combining the deep system insights of AI and digital twins with industrial controls,” said John. A digital twin refers to a digital replica or digital models of physical assets, processes, or systems. For example, GE’s digital twins will ensure cyber threats are detected and precisely located. “What we’re creating is essentially an invisible presence, or ‘digital ghost,’ which watches over and monitors every part of a power system and is capable of changing the operation of that system to allow it to safely operate through a cyber attack.”
John noted that GE researchers have made substantial progress on an existing DOE cybersecurity program to protect electric power plants from cyber threats. “Industrial controls are the brain that automatically acts on the digital twin insights to then neutralize a given threat,” he added.
In a recent press release, GE said that the introduction of such advancements in the onshore and emerging offshore market would result in a significantly more reliable and secure wind-power infrastructure. As part of its new research efforts, the new algorithms will be implemented and validated at a wind-turbine testing site.
Best practices for cybersecurity
For a wind-farm owner, safeguarding networks and control systems to eliminate unexpected outages and unplanned downtime is extremely important. The threat from cyber attacks is expected to rise as more networks connect and go online.
For example, a recent report from Navigant Research found that cyber threats are increasing as more devices connect through the IoT or internet of things. IoT lets wind-farm operators monitor and regulate much of a turbine’s operations through remote access, which may result in time and cost savings. However, the IoT connection also opens up risks to cyber attacks.
These are a few best practices recommended by GE Power (a separate division of General Electric) for maintaining a continuously protected environment.
- Keep software and firmware up-to-date with timely patch updates.
- Hire an external cybersecurity company to perform site evaluations, threat modeling, and penetration testing to evaluate systems.
- Engage an automate patch system for critical ICS — so that manual update schedules aren’t a barrier.
- Participate in security communities focused on business environments to stay current on trending attacks and best practices.
- Monitor critical systems for security-related events and anomalies.
- Transition from a reactive to a predictive security program.
- Educate operations and IT personnel on a regular basis on new attack mechanisms so that they can act as watchful eyes across physical and system landscapes.
The last tip means that every employee needs to be armed with the tools and proper protocol for maintaining the company’s security profile.