Fed­eral offi­cials have been working with part­ners in the pri­vate and public sec­tors to develop an advanced dig­ital Smart Grid infra­struc­ture for the U.S. elec­tric power system, making it more reli­able, energy-​​efficient, and better able to serve new tech­nolo­gies, such as elec­tric vehicles.

But the new intel­li­gent infra­struc­ture comes with greater com­plexity, which increases expo­sure to cyber-​​security threats such as delib­erate attacks and even nat­ural phe­nomena like hur­ri­canes and earth­quakes — which is where North­eastern University’s com­mit­ment and capa­bil­i­ties enter the picture.

Northeastern’s Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence hosted a ses­sion this week for local offi­cials, reg­u­la­tory orga­ni­za­tions, industry and acad­emia to review the 2011 Smart Grid Guide­lines for Cyber Secu­rity, which were released in August. The guide­lines were devel­oped by fed­eral reg­u­la­tors and more than 450 industry leaders specif­i­cally to address secu­rity con­cerns that would arise from the trans­for­ma­tion to a Smart Grid.

We are so pleased to par­tic­i­pate in this crit­ical effort and to sup­port the impor­tant work of the leaders who col­lab­o­rated on the project,” said Larry Finkel­stein, dean of the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, which includes fed­er­ally sup­ported research and edu­ca­tion pro­grams in infor­ma­tion and cyber security.

Today’s grid relies heavily on coal and oil, has lim­ited automa­tion, and fails to pro­vide con­sumers with the data nec­es­sary to manage their energy usage. A Smart Grid would uti­lize dig­ital tech­nology to pro­vide two-​​way com­mu­ni­ca­tion between sup­pliers and con­sumers’ home elec­tronics through the use of smart meters. Using the new system, for example, con­sumers could pro­gram their air con­di­tioning while out run­ning errands, mon­itor energy con­sump­tion and even save enough local power to sell back to the grid.

The shift from the old grid to the Smart Grid will enhance reli­a­bility and secu­rity of the elec­tric system as well as sup­port the growing use of elec­tronics, including plug-​​in vehi­cles,” said Alan Green­berg, tech­nical director of the Cyber Busi­ness Unit at the Boeing Com­pany, and vice chair of the Smart Grid Cyber Secu­rity team.

North­eastern has made a major com­mit­ment to pro­tecting infor­ma­tion net­works. Secu­rity, along with health and sus­tain­ability, is a major research focus for the Uni­ver­sity. It is some­thing Finkel­stein noted is reflected in “the impor­tant security-​​related research projects under­taken by our faculty.”

In addi­tion to research, North­eastern offers aca­d­emic pro­grams in infor­ma­tion secu­rity, including a long­standing pro­fes­sional master’s pro­gram and a new inter­dis­ci­pli­nary PhD.

Our pro­grams address the demand for the next gen­er­a­tion of leaders who under­stand not only the tech­nical but also the legal, policy and social require­ments of cyber secu­rity,” said Finkelstein.

These col­lec­tive efforts have led to Northeastern’s des­ig­na­tion as a National Center of Aca­d­emic Excel­lence in Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance Research and a National Center of Aca­d­emic Excel­lence in Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance Edu­ca­tion by the National Secu­rity Agency and the Depart­ment of Home­land Security.