2 min

Safe operation of intelligent power grids

The SmartMeterIDS project improves security for smart meters.

With the introduction of intelligent power grids, households and businesses will be increasingly equipped with smart meters. In order to effectively meet the challenges to the security of such systems, the St. Pölten UAS, Wels Strom GmbH and eww ag have developed methods in the research project SmartMeterIDS with which the operation of smart meter networks can be continually monitored and thus security can be guaranteed in the best possible way.

Efficient energy use

Smart meters enable automatic reading of electricity consumption and thus contribute to the efficient use of energy: for example, by providing customers with detailed information about their power consumption. By 2020 nearly all Austrian electricity consumers are to be fitted with such smart meters.

Smart meters are part of so-called intelligent power grids, the Smart Grids. These will be even more important because the structure of power generation and distribution is increasingly decentralised and functions more flexibly. Thus, for example, buildings not only consume electricity, but also can produce electricity through solar energy and feed it into the grid.

For customers, smart meters are in a sense the visible terminals of smart grids. In order for smart meters to can carry out their functions, they transmit data over the network to the network operator. Therein lies the difference to conventional counters as it relates to the reading of consumption: the measurement is carried out every quarter hour and the consumption data can be requested directly via a data line and transmitted to the information technology of the energy supplier.

New strategies for more security

With data transmission, questions arise concerning data security. Electricity theft or the disrupting of critical infrastructure would be possible scenarios for criminal manipulations. "'Through the automating of data transfer, considerations for IT security have to be made. Only when the security of such networks is guaranteed will they achieve the necessary acceptance and thus the desired efficiency improvements," says project manager Paul Tavolato of the Department of Computer Science and Security at the St. Pölten UAS. The field of data protection has also been dealt with in the project.

In order to ensure security against attacks in a smart meter network, the project SmartMeterIDS examined monitoring strategies and developed a system to detect unauthorized intrusion into the data network, a so-called intrusion detection system (IDS).

Machine learning

Methods of machine learning come into use in the project. Thereby, a (computer-) system  automatically detects patterns and regularities in data and information. The read-out of the counter status consists of a series of actions and commands: for example, the setup of the connection to a server and the transmission of the desired action up to the transmission of the data. The system automatically learns which command sequences that are transmitted in the network are normal and saves it as a pattern.

During ongoing operation these patterns are then compared with the network traffic; deviations are evaluated, and if necessary identified as a possible attack. In this case, appropriate measures are taken, leading to additional inspections and consequently to rapid countermeasures.

Project SmartMeterIDS

The project is funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology and the Climate and Energy Fund of the Federal Government. The St. Pölten UAS leads the project together with the Wels Strom GmbH and eww ag.

More about Project SmartMeterIDS (german)