High School Cyber Security Contest Secures Power Grid

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High School Cyber Security Contest Secures Power Grid

Published: May 2, 2016.

High school students tested the security of the electrical grid and discussed future careers in cyber security during the April 23 Guardians of the Grid competition at Lewis University in Romeoville. Professor and Chair of Computer and Mathematical Sciences Dr. Ray Klump shared his expertise with the students before they took on the challenging competition.

Funded by the National Security Agency and contributions from ComEd, this competition features a simulator of the commercial power grid. Students play the role of hacker, working in teams to try to cause a blackout on the grid. The system has automatic defenses to try to keep the system stable even in the event of attack, but persistent, orchestrated threats can compromise it, and students get an opportunity to explore those kinds of weaknesses. Through this, they see how big an impact cyber security can have on the grid's operation.

“The Guardians of the Grid competition gives students the ability to learn about the cyber security threats facing one of our most critical infrastructures – the electric power grid,” commented Dr. Klump. “Most people probably don’t think very much about the network of generators and transmission lines that bring electric power to our homes, but hackers have been thinking a lot about it and how to interrupt that flow of power,” he added.

Prior to the competition, all participating students learned how the grid works and how data are encrypted. They applied these lessons, then, in the competition.

“It is important to teach high school students about this, because they have been learning about cyber security largely from the perspective of privacy and how cyber-attack can compromise it,” Dr. Klump said. “But most of them haven’t thought too much about the physical consequences of a cyber-attack, how it can compromise all of the systems on which modern life depends.”

The first, second, and third-place teams won scholarships. All participants were given a Raspberry Pi computer.

“On top of the chance to win prizes, this competition will give students a chance to learn how power travels from generating stations to our homes and business, how the increased computerization of the grid has left it more susceptible to cyber-attack and how steps can be taken to design the grid to respond to and withstand such attacks,” added Dr. Klump.

Dr. Klump is hopeful that this competition will help students learn to identify the possible threats out there so they can become part of the solution.

Lewis University offers a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Computer Engineering, with concentrations in Cyber Security, Web and Mobile Development, Data Science, and Video Game Development. It also offers minors in Computer Science, Cyber Security Science, Data Science, and Web and Mobile Application Development. At the graduate level, it offers a nationally recognized for a Master of Science in Information Security program, which includes an innovative fast-track that enables students to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in five years. A master's degree in Data Science is also available for students who wish to learn more about Big Data. A new Master of Science in Computer Science will start in August 2016.

Lewis University is a Catholic university in the Lasallian tradition offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to nearly 7,000 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected, and socially responsible graduates. The seventh largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. Visit www.lewisu.edu for further information.

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