UNC Charlotte’s energy center and a Virginia company have partnered on a risk-management system aimed at fending off cyberattacks on the power grid.
Researchers at UNCC’s Energy Production & Infrastructure Center, known as EPIC, worked with Waverley Labs, a digital risk-management company, on the technology for the past year.
Their work identified potential failure points in power grids. It then meshed information technology and cybersecurity data with operating and physical factors.
The result was software that helps energy companies identify cyberrisks, rank them by priority and potential impact, and respond before they do damage.
“Our approach is a little different in that most solutions don’t take into account the actual function of the grid itself,” said Waverley Labs founder Juanita Koilpillai. “We marry up the two concepts – how does the grid work and how does it fail – and is the failure from a system fault or a cyberattack?”
The energy industry is awakening to the threat of digital and physical damage. A virus called Stuxnet, discovered in 2010, attacked nuclear centrifuges in Iran. A sniper attacked a power substation in California in 2013, causing $15 million in damage.
Waverley plans to undergo four to five pilot projects over the next year to validate its technology. Koilpillai said the company is already a vendor with the Department of Homeland Security’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program, which fights cyberattacks on federal government networks.
State legislators approved money to launch EPIC in 2009 with the goal of supplying engineers for Charlotte’s growing energy industry. It’s also an applied-research center with frequent collaborations between industry and the university.
Waverley, like the two Charlotte startups EPIC partnered with last year, SineWatts and International ThermoDyne, is already hiring UNCC graduates, said EPIC Director Johan Enslin.
The Cary analytics company SAS made a grant of software, including energy forecasting technologies, last year to UNCC’s Lee College of Engineering and EPIC.
The Waverley partnership fit with UNCC’s Data Science and Business Analytics initiative to develop talent and stimulate innovation.
“We tried to formalize it in a joint program focus between EPIC and (Waverley) on physical and cyberattacks on the power grid,” Enslin said. “It is something which we are focusing on and have a stronger focus on now under the big-data initiative, of which our piece is energy.”
(Note: Story was updated on Jan. 30, 2015, to correct spelling of Waverley Labs.)