Better NovaTech Automation Products Through Research Ventures at PennState, North Carolina State, and Others

PUBLISHED ON Jul 05, 2012

NovaTech Automation

In the past year, NovaTech Automation has donated Orion and Bitronics products to power engineering, cyber security, and Smart Grid research projects at PennState University and North Carolina State University. Previous years’ donations include the Energy and Engines Conversion Laboratory at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, where a 1/40th scale distribution system exists in a single building. NovaTech Automation’s ongoing interest in supporting research in advanced automation, event recording, microgrids, renewables integration, and other applications is a core strategy for contributing to the long term needs of the evolving electric utility and to improving our products.

Professors Peter Idowu and Jeremy Blum of the PennState Harrisburg campus are using donated NovaTech Automation equipment and expertise to train new power engineers at the PPL Power Lab and to adapt a cyber security approach known as a Honeypot to the utility substation environment. Professor Blum’s group is emulating the encrypted communications of the  OrionLX Substation Automation Platform in order to create several hundred OrionLX decoys on a test network, creating uncertainty for a potential hacker about which OrionLX is an actual substation. These decoys could theoretically be configured to allow access via old or weak passwords and other intentional weaknesses for hackers to exploit, providing intelligence on what actions a hacker will take if they believed they had gained access to an actual substation. This venture has already resulted in improvements to the OrionLX security features. Professor Blum and his student Yilun Zhao will be presenting the paper “Agent-based Optimization of Emulations of Network Server Applications in Honeypots” at the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society Symposium in June based on this work. A copy of their paper will be available on the IEEExplore Digital Library in August – here’s the Abstract:

“Low-interaction honeypots can provide a cost-effective security mechanism for a wide range of computer systems. A central challenge in the development of low-interaction honeypots is the development of emulation programs that mimic the action of server applications on the target platform. The emulation programs must be of high enough fidelity to fool attackers. However, the manual development of these emulations is extremely time-consuming. This paper describes an agent-based optimization system that can automate the generation of emulation programs for honeypots. The system is evaluated in its ability to emulate a mail server. In this evaluation, the system produced correct responses to more than 99% of test data queries.”

The most recent equipment donation has been to the FREEDM Systems Center at North Carolina State University, where Professor Alex Huang and his PhD students are designing a radically distributed power architecture, “based on power electronics, high bandwidth digital communication, and distributed control. It is radically different from today’s grid because it replaces electromagnetic devices such as 60Hz transformers with solid state transformers.” Bitronics 70 Series IEDs will provide event recording and diagnostic capabilities to this pioneering project.

NovaTech Automation is happy to provide equipment donations to these and similar University ventures, and we welcome inquiries from interested parties. Email us or contact your NovaTech Automation representative to start a discussion.