Securing critical infrastructure - electric power systems - by developing threat modeling and pentration testing methods swegrids-logo

SweGRIDS research area Digitalization of Power Systems
SweGRIDS project code DPS5
Project type PhD
Status running
Researcher Fredrik Heiding   (webpage)
University KTH (NSE)
Project period 2019-06-10 to 2023-   
Project supervisor Robert Lagerström   (webpage)
Industrial sponsors Svenska kraftnät


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Project abstract

Cyber security is an increasing concern and with the digital explosion we are facing the attack surface is getting larger. This digitization has a central role in the vision of viable cities, where efficient energy, self-driving vehicles, and healthy citizens are core objectives. Almost all ideas addressing today’s energy problems include digital solutions. In the systems-of-systems concept, where everything is digital and connected, the threats and risks of cyber security breaches will be tremendous if we do not design secure solutions and actively test these, both on their own and in the system-of-systems they will act.

Approaches for proactively testing the system-wide architectures, so called threat modeling and attack simulations, are important for securing future systems. Today (and for an unforeseeable future) there are numerous unknown vulnerabilities in all kinds of products incl. ICT for critical infrastructure. Penetration testing will be conducted to find zero-day vulnerabilities in order to secure these products. Today it is difficulty to do penetration testing of an ICT system in critical infrastructure because the methods available can potentially interrupt the process (for instance systems go down and no electricity can be generated or distributed). We will develop new methods and re-design current methods for hacking to better fit critical infrastructure in the energy domain. And also use this as input to the threat modelling and attack simulation approaches developed.


Summary of work

The article on securing IoT devices focus on consumer IoT products and serves to build a foundation for treating the security of industrial IoT (IIoT) which will be investigated in a future study.

The second article creates an ontology framework to improve automatic threat modeling. The framework is developed with conceptual modeling and validated using three different datasets: a small scale utility lab, water utility control network, and university IT environment. The framework produced successful results such as standardizing input sources, removing duplicate name entries, and grouping application software more logically.

A literature review has been conducted on penetration testing and is currently under review for publication in IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials. The study performed a rigorous investigation of penetration testing methods and studies, investigating how penetration testing is treated and use as an academic domain. This will be a foundation for future work on presentation testing and eventually targeting more specific research on penetration testing of industrial control systems (ICS) and related devices.

Work has also been conducted to set up a hacking lab for pentesting ICS devices and similar equipment. More ICS devices are continuously being sought after in order to expand the lab.


Event log

The project was featured in SVT Rapport in November 2020 for exploiting a vulnerability in smart car technologies and describing how or civilians can protect themselves from exposing their digital product (see svt, in Swedish).

The project won the KTH Energy Dialog research-presentation competition in November 2020. The pitch (available here) contained information on the core of the project: to enhance the cyber security of critical infrastructures. The pitch mentioned the increase of cyber attacks towards power plants and other critical industries and stressed the importance of further research to make Sweden more secure. The pitch finally discussed how to conduct this further research by mentioning novel penetration testing and threat modeling techniques.


Project reference-group

Göran Ericsson,  Svenska kraftnät
Svante Nygren,  Svenska kraftnät
Robert Lagerström,  KTH


Publications by this researcher

See alternatively the researcher's full DiVA list of publications, with options for sorting.
Publications in journals and conferences usually will not show until a while after they are published.

Securing IoT Devices using Geographic and Continuous Login Blocking: A Honeypot Study
Fredrik Heiding,   Robert Lagerström,   Andreas Wallström,   Mohammad-Ali Omer.
2020,   ICISSP 2020 6th International Conference on Information Systems Security and Privacy 2020, Pages 424-431

Automating threat modeling using an ontology framework : Validated with data from critical infrastructures
Margus Välja,   Fredrik Heiding,   Ulrik Franke,   Robert Lagerström.
2020,   Cybersecurity, vol. 3(19)

Ethical Principles for Designing Responsible Offensive Cyber Security Training
Fredrik Heiding,   Robert Lagerström.
2020,   Privacy and Identity 2020 International Summer School, Maribor, Slovenia, September 21–23, 2020

Publication list last updated from DiVA on 2021-09-18 22:00.


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Page started: 2019-06-10
Last generated: 2021-09-18