Mason Team to Partner with IBM on Research

A multidisciplinary team of George Mason University professors will partner with IBM to research imminent advancements in the electric power industry, changes that will challenge cybersecurity for the more than 3,000 electric companies in the United States.

IBM has selected the multidisciplinary team, including representatives from the School of Business, the Volgenau School of Engineering, the Center for Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security and the School of Public Policy, to receive a prestigious Shared University Research Award.

Power companies are shifting operations to smart grids connected to each other and to the Internet, and that creates potential cybersecurity issues not only for the prominent electric corporations but the 800 co-ops around the country.

The joint research team’s goal is to determine actions the companies can take regarding security, technology, policy, leadership and management of the grids and convey those findings to the power and control system industries and their regulators.

“Historically, the elements of the electric power industry have been isolated and not connected to communication networks or the Internet. More and more connections are happening,” says J.P. Auffret, director of the Master of Science in Technology Management and MS in Management of Secure Information Systems programs in the School of Business. He is the faculty lead on the project.

“The IT systems and control systems were never meant for that,” Auffret says. “It’s going to be a vastly different world three, five and 10 years from now for the power companies. Their overall cybersecurity is dependent upon the cybersecurity of even the smallest companies.”

The IBM award was facilitated by Sarah Nutter, dean of the School of Business, and Mason alumna Anne Altman, general manager of IBM U. S. Federal and Government Industries. Altman is a former member of the university’s Board of Visitors.

“The evolving threat landscape poised to challenge the electric power generation, transmission and distribution industry and the smart grid will require innovation breakthroughs at every link in the end-to-end supply chain, from industrial control system design and manufacturing, computer systems design, information management, security, regulation and policy,” says Jane Snowdon, chief innovation officer for U.S. Federal. “Advances will require the combined resources and collaboration of academia, government and industry. IBM looks forward to working with George Mason to promote basic research in problems of national importance.”

In addition to conducting their joint research, the Mason and IBM team also will have focus groups and workshops with power and control system industry executives, government agencies and regulators and other experts in the field to help develop recommendations for their final report.

“It’s wonderful,” Auffret says, “because IBM has such expertise and history of working in many, many industries with information technology, but they’re also being a leader in the whole smart city and grid areas.”

Joining Auffret on the Mason team are Angelos Stavrou, associate professor of computer science in the Volgenau School of Engineering and associate director of the university’s Center for Secure Information Systems; Kumar Mehta, associate professor in the School of Business; Mark Troutman, associate director of the university’s Center for Infrastructure Protection and Homeland Security; and Christine Pommerening, research assistant professor and director of the Master of Public Policy in the School of Public Policy.

The primary IBM participants are Snowdon; Peter Allor, security strategist, Critical Infrastructure Group, U.S. Federal; Jeffrey Katz, chief technology officer, Electric and Energy Utilities; and Diana Kelley, application security strategist.

This article was written by Preston Williams and originally appeared on the Mason News Desk.


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