Deloitte: Poland enters the phase of economic expansion

The divergence of economic moods in Poland...

Two Years On: War in Ukraine and Its Global Impact

On February 24, 2022, a full-scale Russian...

Cisco Talos saves Ukrainian energy sector from GPS jamming

SECURITYCisco Talos saves Ukrainian energy sector from GPS jamming

By December 2022, nearly half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure had been destroyed, leaving millions of people without electricity.

The energy deficit, escalated due to months-long Russian drone and missile attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, is exacerbated by the impact of GPS jammers on border power plants.

Cisco Talos has created a solution to protect Ukraine’s energy security, implemented in collaboration with Ukrenergo, the state high-voltage line operator.

Modern warfare actions are yielding increasingly unexpected results. The use of drones and military electronics can significantly impact the energy sector operating in conflict areas. Many Ukrainian high-voltage electric substations use precise information transmitted via GPS to help operators anticipate, respond, and diagnose the high-voltage network. To secure the transmission of key information from substations, Cisco Talos experts have developed a solution to ensure the stability of Ukrainian power plants.

When the invasion of Ukraine turned into a protracted war, in the winter of 2022, Russia intensified attacks on the Ukrainian energy sector. Nearly half of the energy infrastructure in Ukraine has been destroyed, leaving millions of people without electricity and heat during the most severe frosts. The resulting energy deficit was compounded by an additional technical problem that had been silenced in the media —the deliberate jamming of GPS signals from Ukrainian power plants.

Over the past year, numerous reports have emerged of GPS signals being disrupted by Russia, especially near the occupied territories. The use of electronic jamming devices has been linked to attempts to disrupt GPS-guided ammunition, protect soldiers, and achieve tactical and strategic objectives of armed conflict.

While electronic disruptions can influence the battlefield, they also have an unintended impact on the Ukrainian energy sector. Many high-voltage substations heavily rely on the availability of accurate GPS time data to help operators anticipate, respond to, and diagnose the complex high-voltage network. It’s a complicated task in normal times, let alone during war.

When GPS signals are jammed, substations cannot assign accurate timestamps. Without well-synchronized data, efforts to manage loads between different parts of the system may be disrupted. This management helps avoid downtime and failures, especially during peak demand periods and sharp increases. These disruptions can be extensive, causing the loss of GPS services over large areas for extended periods.

The Cisco Talos experts learned about the issue in February 2023 during a presentation on cybersecurity. Among the listeners was a delegation from Ukrenergo, the operator of Ukraine’s power transmission system, responsible for handling high-voltage lines.

The obvious problems were widely known, but one of the issues mentioned was rather incidental: “We cannot obtain reliable time measurement due to electronic GPS jamming.”

High-voltage substations are key components of the power system, where energy can be stored from generating resources, transformed into different voltage levels, and delivered to load points. Substations are interconnected, creating a network that enhances the reliability of the power supply by providing alternative paths for energy flow. This ensures power is supplied all the time and there are no energy supply interruptions.

Devices can use the GPS satellite time signal to determine the accuracy of the local time reference and then adjust the time accordingly, allowing all devices with GPS-supporting clocks to set precisely the same time. Problems, however, begin when the GPS signal is unavailable, and the “on-board” clocks are insufficiently accurate. Without the ability to analyze the exact time of faults, electric network operators struggle to accurately diagnose the problem.

In summary, if GPS time is turned off, network operators will have more difficulty balancing power during adverse events occurring in wartime. The Cisco IoT team suggested that a Cisco industrial Ethernet switch would suffice, part of the company’s hardened product sets designed specifically for challenging deployments. These devices are built to withstand harsh industrial conditions and extreme temperature ranges (from -40° to 75°C).

Despite the advantages of the industrial Ethernet switch, Cisco and Cisco Talos experts had to introduce software modifications that would allow the device to meet the specific set of challenges facing the Ukrainian power network. The industrial Ethernet switch had to provide necessary sustaining during GPS power supply interruptions so PMU units could continue to work.

To ensure that the industrial Ethernet switch fully understood what the GPS signal transmitted to it before it was turned off, Cisco created new, enhanced clock recovery algorithms. Additional filtering was also applied in the device’s software to enable it to recognize that the signal is not functioning and guess what the time was when GPS was lost.

Once successful tests were conducted Cisco immediately prioritized the production of these devices. Hardware and software engineers from across the company came together to share their knowledge and expertise, creating a production line capable of addressing the unique needs of Ukraine.

In cybersecurity and protection of critical infrastructure, the work, though valuable, may never become widespree. The PowerUp project is slightly different. This time, the work of the cybersecurity experts was visible and life-saving. Hospitals and even home televisions with children’s shows were able to run just a few minutes longer.

“If anything can be gleaned from this, it’s that acting and leading with empathy is at the core of Cisco Talos’ mission. This year, we made it so that the work of our specialists was visible and made a real change in the lives of others. Fighting for good is not just cybersecurity — it’s doing what is right and aiding others in the face of adversity,” says Joe Marshall from Cisco Talos.

What started this year as a casual presentation morphed into an international, multidisciplinary, global team of energy network security experts, who had never collaborated before. Talos would not have achieved this success without the support of numerous experts from Cisco who helped develop this innovative solution. Great thanks are also owed to partners in Ukraine, the U.S. government, and ICS suppliers and experts who dedicated their time, empathy, and knowledge,” summarizes Joe Marshall.

Check out our other content
Related Articles
The Latest Articles