Indian student at UIUC recognized for developing method to locate power grid attackers

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Sriramya Bhamidipati is a graduate of IIT Bombay.

Sriramya Bhamidipati

An Indian doctoral scholar at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been recognized for developing a method to locate and prevent cyber-attacks using GPS.

Sriramya Bhamidipati developed the method to determine the location of spoofers — someone sending fake signals that disrupt the power grid using GPS signals. She won an award for the work at the 2017 ION GNSS+ conference, along with Assistant Professor Grace Gao.

Prior to enrolling at University of Illinois, Bhamidipati graduated in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, according to her LinkedIn profile.

“Using GPS signals to locate the spoofer during an attack is a novel concept that Bhamidipati has been developing, with the goal of providing real-world solutions to timing attacks on our critical infrastructure. Their technique is unique in that it both raises an alarm to an attack and then quickly and accurately locates the spoofer in real-time,” said a statement issued by the University.

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

Previously, Bhamidipati and Gao developed a method that uses multiple GPS signals to track power grid activity by recording and analyzing the timing and flow for phasor measurement units (PMUs), which regulate and control power systems. To find where spoofers are located, they took the work a step further.

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If the GPS receivers detect a delay in the timing of the electricity, they can utilize the positioning of satellites orbiting Earth to find the source of the delay.

“GPS systems communicate with satellites, and spoofer signals will disrupt those signals,” said Bhamidipati. “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.”

GPS timing is becoming a powerful tool — it can be operated from everywhere and can help control everything from the power grid to the stock market on Wall Street. But if there’s a tweak of even a few microseconds, it could have dire consequences.

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To help with this work, Bhamidipati and Gao used the Information Trust Institute Power Grid Lab, located in the CSL Studio. The lab is set up to simulate a real power grid, and researchers can send in malicious attacks that simulate real attackers, giving them the opportunity to find the best solution.

“We want to make the power grid as secure and resilient as possible against attackers,” said Gao, CSL assistant professor of aerospace engineering. “Our work—and our ability to test it in a simulated environment — allows us to build robust techniques for timing analysis and spoofer localization.”