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Indian-American recognized for developing method to locate power grid attackers

An Indian-American at the University of Illinois, has been recognized for developing a method to locate where a potential cyberattacker aiming to disrupt the power grid, a challenge that scientists and policymakers in the U.S. and around the world are grappling with.

If one can pinpoint the location of the perpetrator accurately and quickly, it may be possible to stop the attack before significant damage occurs. That is the motivation behind the research carried out by Sriramya Bhamidipati and Coordinated Science Lab Assistant Professor Grace Gao, at the University of Illinois, according to a press release from the institution Nov. 15.

Their work using GPS signals to determine the location of spoofers—someone sending fake signals that disrupt the power grid— won the best presentation award at the 2017 ION GNSS+ conference.

“If there is an attack, we want to determine where the attack is coming from,” Bhamidipati, a PhD student in aerospace engineering, is quoted saying on the university website. “We can do that using the geometry and timing analysis of GPS signals and the satellite connection to the power grid.”


Global Positioning Systems communicate with satellites, and spoofer signals will disrupt those signals, Bhamidipati points out. “If we can calculate the difference in distances between the GPS receivers on the ground, in relation to the satellites, we can determine the location of the spoofer,” she calculates. Even microseconds of time difference in the power substation’s relay can be detected and the location of the spoofer found, Bhamidipati’s research findings show.

The spoofer location can be caught in less than second, allowing for a quick response from the authorities to stop the attack so that there is no effect on the power grid operations.

“GPS is powerful, but civil GPS manipulation can be stealthy and relatively easy to do,” said Bhamidipati. “It’s important that we find ways to deal with the inevitable attacks to systems that use GPS.”

Bhamidipati and Gao used the Information Trust Institute Power Grid Lab at CSL Studio where a real power grid can be simulated as can malicious attacks. making it possible for them to find a solution.