Critical Infrastructure: How Artificial Intelligence Can Protect Water and Power Grids

Critical Infrastructure: How Artificial Intelligence Can Protect Water and Power Grids
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Critical Infrastructure: How Artificial Intelligence Can Protect Water and Power Grids

Status: 30/10/2022 11:03

Critical infrastructures such as water, electricity or transport are threatened by sabotage or natural disasters. Research and science can contribute to conservation, for example through artificial intelligence.

Author: Annemarie Neumann, SWR

Thanks to the Internet, global trade and global tourism, the world is more connected than ever. However, this also makes critical infrastructures such as electricity, transport and the health system more vulnerable.

Just recently, cable sabotage paralyzed the Deutsche Bahn network. It is known from past attacks that attackers often take a long time to prepare. In the 2015 hacking attack on the power grid in Ukraine, the perpetrators penetrated the system months before. To better prepare for intrusions and hidden attacks, Therefore, research and science are also concerned with the security of critical infrastructures.

What is critical infrastructure?

Critical infrastructures are according to the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) Organizations or institutions of particular importance to the state community. This includes sectors such as healthcare, transport and energy. Their failure has dramatic consequences, such as long-term supply disruptions or disruptions to public safety. In order to minimize far-reaching damage, they therefore need special protection.

Versatile threats

Critical infrastructure protection depends on the sector and the individual situation. Because with each structure there are different dangers. All areas that operate at least partially digitally are at risk of cyberattacks. In the areas of food and water, extreme weather events pose a particular risk to the supply of the population, and these sectors can also be affected to varying degrees by intentional actions or technical and human errors. According to the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, an all-risks approach that includes all possible scenarios is therefore taken into account when protecting individual systems.

Research for greater protection against cyber attacks

Critical infrastructure protection research is conducted in all areas. In this way, possible hazards, such as possible extreme weather events in climate research, are analysed. Defense concepts are being developed or the resilience of critical infrastructures is being increased, for example against cyber-attacks or deliberate manipulation by artificial intelligence. “Basically, a lot of research deals with critical infrastructures without using the keyword,” says scientist Sadeeb Simon Ottenburger from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

It deals with the resilience of critical infrastructure. Resilience, according to the Home Office, refers to “the ability of a system to withstand or adapt to events in order to maintain or quickly restore functionality”.

Artificial intelligence as an early warning system

Potential threats to the security of energy supply are systematically investigated at KIT. Artificial intelligence can help identify and eliminate possible weak points in technical systems in time. With increasing digitization, different sectors of critical infrastructure are becoming more interconnected and interdependent.

A longer-term blackout could have far-reaching consequences in other areas of critical infrastructure: For example, there could be disruptions to transportation, restrictions on medical care and drug production, or the collapse of drinking water supplies. Artificial intelligence can act as an early warning system here. Otherwise, errors in the system could be detected too late or could be overlooked, especially in highly complex network systems.

Simulations should find errors at an early stage

A research group led by computer scientist Eric Veith from the University of Oldenburg is also investigating how artificial intelligence can contribute to the safe and sustainable operation of critical infrastructures. The goal is to increase resilience, i.e. resistance to unforeseen events, using artificial intelligence methods such as independent learning.

In simulations, for example, network data and communications are tested using algorithms to find errors and faults in time. For now, according to Veith, the research is focused on the power sector, but later it should be applied to all sectors of critical infrastructure.

Different exercise scenarios

In addition to research, each sector also has strategies and legal frameworks to protect critical infrastructures from disruption and failure. In addition, the federal government, local authorities, and individual institutions conduct exercise scenarios and management exercises to better respond in the event of an emergency.

However, according to Ottenburger, self-insurance can also be advantageous, since it may not be possible to help all private individuals equally. Veith makes it clear that everyone has an obligation to deal with this topic sensitively. At this point, according to Ottenburger, “science should also discuss critical infrastructures, politics and society” to minimize the risk of disruption in the future.

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