Study Reveals Vulnerability of Offshore Wind Farms to Cyberattacks

The rapid pace of societal electrification, driven by the shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources like wind energy, holds promise for mitigating climate change. However, this transition brings forth new challenges and risks, particularly in the realm of cybersecurity, that warrant attention and exploration.

At the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Communications, Control, and Computing Technologies for Smart Grids (SmartGridComm) in Glasgow, United Kingdom, researchers from Concordia University and Hydro-Quebec unveiled a groundbreaking study focusing on the cybersecurity risks faced by offshore wind farms. Their investigation centered on wind farms utilizing voltage-source-converter high-voltage direct-current (VSC-HVDC) connections, recognized as the most economically viable solution for offshore wind energy extraction worldwide.

Juanwei Chen, a Ph.D. student at the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE), underscores the importance of recognizing the uncharted vulnerabilities and cyber threats accompanying the integration of renewable energies. Chen emphasizes the need to understand how these threats might intensify operational challenges faced by offshore wind farms and assess their broader impact on the power grid.

Contributing to the study were Concordia Ph.D. student Hang Du, CIISE associate professor Jun Yan, Gina Cody School dean Mourad Debbabi, and Rawad Zgheib from the Hydro-Quebec Research Institute (IREQ). The research, part of a collaborative effort between Prof. Debbabi’s group and the IREQ cybersecurity research team led by Dr. Marthe Kassouf and Dr. Zgheib, sheds light on the complex and vulnerable nature of offshore wind farm systems.

Offshore wind farms, due to their remote locations and reliance on hybrid communication networks, present multiple access points for cyberattacks. Malicious actors could potentially compromise the local area network of converter stations, leading to manipulation of sensor data and subsequent electrical disturbances. These disturbances, if synchronized with poorly dampened power oscillations from the wind farms, could amplify and propagate through the HVDC system, posing threats to the stability of the main power grid.

Prof. Yan, Concordia’s Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence in Cyber Security and Resilience, emphasizes the need for industry-wide efforts to bolster the security of operational technologies amidst growing cybersecurity concerns. While regulatory standards exist, there is a pressing need for enhanced security measures and international standardization efforts.

Concordia University is at the forefront of these initiatives, spearheading research and advocacy for robust cybersecurity protocols in the energy sector. However, Prof. Yan acknowledges that much work remains to be done, with numerous challenges and questions yet to be addressed in safeguarding our energy infrastructure against evolving cyber threats.