MonICATO - Monitoring Interfering and Cyber Attacks to Timing Operations of Satellite Based Infrastructures

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Power grids depend more and more on satellite-derived time and use signals from Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) to be more efficient. To control power generation, frequency, voltage and loads, and take timely actions, it is necessary to have synchronous measurements from the grid nodes. These nodes send then timestamped measures to Distribution System Operators (DSOs) Central Processing Facility (CPF) for analysis and decision making.

GNSS signals are susceptible to interfering signals; among all types of interference, intentional attacks aiming to disrupt GNSS services are becoming a significant concern. Illegal GNSS jammers can be purchased on the web, while GNSS spoofing is no longer a “research-curiosity”, but rather a real problem.

MonICATO studies an end-to-end and easy-to-use solution to protect the devices used for the synchronization of power grids, and in general critical infrastructures, which use time derived by GNSS signals. The protection of new devices is based on countermeasures against intentional or unintentional Radio Frequency (RF) interference that could impact the operation of the entire infrastructure, with embedded capabilities in terms of interference monitoring and secure transmission of timestamped data.

Users and their needs

The project focuses on a primary market constituted by European customers in the energy domain, namely Distribution System Operators (DSO) and Transmission System Operator (TSO), even if extension to other domains, like the operation of telecom networks, are already envisaged.

Time synchronization is becoming more and more important, if not critical, in the different portions of the power grids (i.e. transmission grid, high / medium voltage sub-stations), in particular where Intelligent Electronic Devices (IED) need to time-tag generated data that are subsequently needed for TSO/DSO decision making with fast responsiveness. This is particularly relevant in situations where new devices, like PMUs, are used: time synchronized measurements are important because in case grid’s supply and demand are not perfectly matched, frequency imbalances can cause stress on the grid with potential power outages.

Protecting from new cyber-attacks, in an easy and effective way, both time synchronization and data exchange is an important need for the customers, for which security, at any level, from physical access, to cyber-attack to network and devices requires continuous effort and is a time-consuming activity. 

Service/ system concept

MoniCATO proposes an innovative service solution aiming at securing the use of time information in energy grid network devices, combining the upcoming authenticated Galileo signals with new advanced techniques in digital identity and cryptography, thus ensuring secure transmission of timestamped data to the DSO/TSO Central Processing Facility for decision making.

In addition, it enables security-related services, such as interference characterization and localization, through the continuous monitoring of protected bands reserved to GNSS.

The services studied by MonICATO are designed to be:

  • modular, in order to adapt the different customer implementation and operations processes,
  • compatible with the existing energy network,
  • easy to deploy on a large-scale installation, thanks to the latest low-cost HW technology.

Space Added Value

A key feature of MonICATO services is based on the processing of new Galileo signals featuring an authentication mechanism, to prevent some of the most simple spoofing attacks against GNSS receivers used as timing sources in power grids.

The project paves the way for the introduction on new authenticated signals in downstream applications characterized by security-related requirements. The European Galileo program is making an effort to gradually add authentication services to its 1st and 2nd generation of satellites signals, in order to enable authentication functionalities to future civil receivers.

Current Status

The project work logic foresees four different phases: (i) service definition, (ii) service specification and consolidation, (iii) service commercial viability, (iv) planning for the future implementation.  The Service definition phase has been completed, thanks also to the support of the initial stakeholders (about 12 entities have been reached among DSO, TSO, Research Centers in the energy domain, equipment manufacturer, system integrators). Support to the project has been also given by representatives of the ENCS, ENISA and EDA agencies that participated in a dedicated working session where results reached at the end of this phase were presented.

Status Date

Updated: 09 June 2020 - Created: 09 June 2020