Security of Critical Elements of Controlled Electrical Networks

Funded by the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism (AVANZA I+D program) and FEDER (TSI-020100-2011-152)
Duration: 01/01/2011 to 31/12/2012

Project Overview: 

SECRET focuses on the protection, security and safety for critical control systems. This need is due to the evolution of its architecture and to the need of breaking down with the traditional systems, which were mainly based on isolated networks, mainly composed of proprietary (hardware and software) components. However, and unfortunately, this evolution has involved certain architectural complexities and security risks (vulnerabilities, failures, errors and threats) that could put the good-performance of the system, as a whole, and its critical elements (either remote terminal units from Telvent Company or smart meters from ZIV Company) at risk.

To be more precise with the goals of the project, SECRET is focused on researching on advanced technologies for critical control systems and on countermeasures for power networks in order to ensure security of the system elements. This means taking into account recommendations, standards and good practices, as well as to carry out a set of analysis of vulnerabilities and threats in laboratory so as to find all of those countermeasures required for reaching with the expected trade-off between security and performance.

As for the role of NICS Lab in SECRET, the group has been playing an important role in the execution of several tasks and, of course, in the participation of one of the main workpackages of this project. In particular, NICS Lab has led the tasks related to exploitation and dissemination of results, as well as those tasks associated with the security analysis of RTUs and smart meters. On the other hand, the group has collaborated with the study of standards and recommendations for control elements, security analysis and design for control system architectures, and the creation of a remote laboratory to discover vulnerabilities and anomalous behaviours [1], and test the well performance of processes and functionalities.


  1. J. Lopez, C. Alcaraz, and R. Roman, "Smart Control of Operational Threats in Control Substations",
    Computers & Security, vol. 38, Elsevier, pp. 14-27, OCT 2013. DOI (I.F.: 1.172)More..


    Any deliberate or unsuitable operational action in control tasks of critical infrastructures, such as energy generation, transmission and distribution systems that comprise sub-domains of a Smart Grid, could have a significant impact on the digital economy: without energy, the digital economy cannot live. In addition, the vast majority of these types of critical systems are configured in isolated locations where their control depends on the ability of a few, supposedly trustworthy, human operators. However, this assumption of reliabilty is not always true. Malicious human operators (criminal insiders) might take advantage of these situations to intentionally manipulate the critical nature of the underlying infrastructure. These criminal actions could be not attending to emergency events, inadequately responding to incidents or trying to alter the normal behaviour of the system with malicious actions. For this reason, in this paper we propose a smart response mechanism that controls human operators’ operational threats at all times. Moreover, the design of this mechanism allows the system to be able to not only evaluate by itself, the situation of a particular scenario but also to take control when areas are totally unprotected and/or isolated. The response mechanism, which is based on Industrial Wireless Sensor Networks (IWSNs) for the constant monitoring of observed critical infrastructures, on reputation for controlling human operators’ actions, and on the ISA100.11a standard for alarm management, has been implemented and simulated to evaluate its feasibility for critical contexts.

    Impact Factor: 1.172
    Journal Citation Reports® Science Edition (Thomson Reuters, 2013)

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