Tuesday, December 2, 2014


No, I didn’t just choose some random letters for the title of this post.  IMNSHO[i], TCIPG is one of the best-kept secrets in cyber security - and without a doubt the best-kept secret in Smart Grid security.  Here is my short[ii] summary of why I think this organization is so great:

  • TCIPG is a research organization that focuses on making the Smart Grid more secure.
  • It is based at the University of Illinois[iii], although it’s a collaboration between U of I, University of California at Davis, Washington State University, and Dartmouth College. 
  • TCIPG is funded primarily by a $18MM grant from DoE and DHS, which I believe became effective in 2010.  This grant will run out next year.
  • There are a number of industry partners (full disclosure: One of those is Honeywell, and Dr. Himanshu Khurana of Honeywell sits on TCIPG’s External Advisory Board), plus some of the national labs. 
  • There are two primary events that are open to industry participants.  One is the annual two-day Industry Workshop, held in Champaign, Illinois at the University of Illinois.  I just attended this for the second time, and was amazed (also for the second time) at how valuable it was (you can see the presentations[iv] at the link provided – I especially recommend the one by Tom Siebel, a big supporter of TCIPG and the person for whom the U of I Center for Computing Science is named).  This is a free event.
  • The other is their biannual “Summer School”.  This is a weeklong event held on a beautiful campus in rural St. Charles, Illinois (outside Chicago). I attended the most recent one, in June 2013.  The next one – which could be the last they have – is scheduled for June 15-19, 2015.  I highly recommend that anyone interested / involved in the cyber security of the Smart Grid attend this.  The 2013 school was a great experience for me.  For one thing, it is pitched toward audiences who want to hear about cutting-edge research, but who also can always use some good grounding in the basics – the basics of electricity transmission and distribution, as well as cyber security (I certainly can always use this).  There are “101” lectures by professors, as well as mind-boggling presentations by professors and industry people like Jason Larsen of Idaho National Labs, who very convincingly showed how he can compromise any electronic device that gets put on his desk (and doing exactly that is a big part of his job.  I understood maybe a tenth of what he said, but it was really amazing to hear him describe the many different routes he can take to compromise a device).
  • For another thing, the Summer School has great hands-on labs.  My favorite in 2013 was when we broke up into small groups and gathered around tables.  Each table had a small generator, a solar panel, a windmill driven by a fan, a lamp and a few other sources of load; our objective was to put these together into a self-sustaining microgrid. Again, this was over my head personally, but it was great to watch the others put it together (we didn’t ultimately get it to work, but a couple other groups did).  So I recommend you watch this link for signup information.

There is another thing you should know about TCIPG: In an era when a lot of people think the Federal government can’t spend a dime without wasting it, I think TCIPG is one of the best examples of a program that leverages a fairly modest amount of funding to achieve a huge amount of benefit.  Since 2010, they have already developed valuable technologies for securing the Smart Grid – a few of which have already been commercialized.  Even more importantly, they have conducted a huge amount of research, which you can read about here (along with their publications here).  They have achieved all of this on $18 million by leveraging faculty members and students (graduate and undergrad) at the four schools, as well as national labs.  And you can read about – and download – some of the different Smart Grid educational tools and programs they’ve developed, both for the general public and for industry.

I mentioned their funding runs out next year.  I compliment those Departments (and especially Carol Hawk of DoE) for their vision in funding this effort in the first place, and highly recommend they figure out a way to continue and even broaden the effort.

The views and opinions expressed here are my own and don’t necessarily represent the views or opinions of Honeywell.

[i] In My Not So Humble Opinion

[ii] Full disclosure: “Short” means something entirely different in this blog from most other publications.  In fact, a good translation for my use of “short” is “long”.  A good translation for my use of “long” is “forget about ever getting through it”.

[iii] I confess this fact alone endears them to me, since I live in Chicago and can attend their events without having to set foot in an airport.

[iv] I will do a post soon on one of the presentations, which I think will be particularly interesting for readers.  No, it has nothing to do with CIP Version 5.

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