UTSA professor works to halt and track cyber terrorists
(March 28, 2016) -- Ahmad Taha, assistant professor of electrical engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has received a $30,000 grant to support his top-tier research to detect and halt cyber threats to electrical grids. Taha’s work will focus on smart grids, Internet-enabled devices that now generate and monitor much of the electric power in the U.S., and protecting them from cyber attacks.
“In the past few decades, we’ve become increasingly reliant on the Internet. That reliance naturally spreads to machines and devices that generate and consume electricity,” Taha said. “This is especially true with communication networks, and as a result those networks and much of the cyber world is embedded into smart grids.”
Smart grids encompass most energy systems, such as smart meters in people’s homes and renewable energy resources like wind and solar energy. The energy industry has invested heavily in smart grids in recent years, capitalizing on benefits such as digital communications technology, which allows for computer-based remote control and automation.
“All of our basic infrastructures, such as transportation, air traffic control and water distribution systems depend on electricity and smart grid technologies,” Taha said.
While smart grids are modern and efficient, they’re susceptible to cyber attacks, which can be difficult to detect. Cyber terrorists could hack into smart grids and affect smart meter measurements, which could cause a person’s energy bill to skyrocket. On a larger scale, tampering with a smart grid can result in a blackout.
“Just a small blackout could have serious consequences to our local and federal economies,” Taha said. “The 2003 Northeast Blackout only last a few days, and yet it caused billions of dollars in damage.”
In collaboration with the Argonne National Laboratory and fellow UTSA faculty Nikolaos Gastis and Bing Dong, Taha plans to visualize these disturbances by using actual data from smart grids to simulate an attack. Repeatedly testing his digital protections identify weak spots in smart grids, so that the attackers can’t target those areas again.
“A huge part of the analysis of smart grids is understanding how electric power is generated and flowing in the network,” he said. “Once you understand how this works, it’s possible to see when something unusual is occurring.”
Taha expects his research will lead to infrastructures that not only detect when tampering is occurring within a smart grid, but also to track the person who is hacking into it.
“Smart grids are the cornerstone of our economy,” Taha said. “They’re also a huge part of everyone’s daily lives, and they need proper protection.”
Learn more about cybersecurity at UTSA.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The Roadrunner community and nearby residents are highly encouraged to cast their votes at UTSA, a designated early voting site for the March 3 Texas presidential primary election.H-E-B Student Union, Bexar Room (HSU 1.102), Main Campus
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in health care, you won’t want to miss UTSA’s 14th annual Health Professions Day. Meet with representatives of health professions programs at schools such as Texas Tech University Health Science Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, University North Texas Health Science Center, University of the Incarnate Word, and many more. Free and open to UTSA students, local area college and high school students, and community members.Student Union, Retama Galleria (SU First Floor Corridor), Main Campus
An FBI subject matter expert will discuss the threat to U.S. technology and public sector from foreign adversaries, specific technologies sought and vectors used to illicitly obtain them, how to best safeguard intellectual property.Durango Building (DB 2.112A), Downtown Campus
Why just leap when you can dash? The Alumni Association’s 36th annual Diploma Dash 5K and City Championship is a great opportunity to run or walk for a great cause: scholarships for UTSA students.Main Campus
Students are encouraged to attend to obtain important information about Spring Commencement and life after UTSA. Graduating students can order their cap and gown and other items, win prizes and capture lasting memories with fellow Roadrunners at a selfie station. Participants should take a UTSA student ID for entry.H-E-B Student Union, Ballrooms (HSU 1.104/1.106), Main Campus
UTSA’s first Wellbeing Fair is a part of the President’s Initiative of Enriching Campus Wellbeing. UTSA is committed to the well-being of each member of the campus community and recognizes that numerous factors contribute to overall wellness: physical and mental health, diet and nutrition, physical activity, stress management and self-care, social behaviors and more. The fair will give students, faculty and staff an opportunity to participate in well-being activities, obtain well-being information and learn about available services. Participants will become more competent in making healthy decisions to take a more proactive approach in their own well-being.Paseo Principal, Student Union, Main Campus
Students are encouraged to attend to obtain important information about Spring Commencement and life after UTSA. Graduating students can order their cap and gown and other items, win prizes and capture lasting memories with fellow Roadrunners at a selfie station. Participants should take a UTSA student ID for entry.Durango Building, El Mercado Room (DB 1.208), Downtown Campus