Valdes to direct "Smart Grid@Illinois" research
Alfonso Valdes, a longtime leader of national cyber security efforts in the electricity sector, is set to become the first managing director of the expanding "Smart Grid @ Illinois" research efforts housed in the Information Trust Institute (ITI) at the University of Illinois.
The term "Smart Grid" refers to the integration of the existing physical infrastructure of the power grid with an advanced communication and control cyber infrastructure, in order to make energy transmission and distribution more efficient, and, therefore, cheaper for consumers and less wasteful of resources. However, Smart Grid technologies may introduce new problems, such as increasing the vulnerability of systems to cyber attack. Thus, leaders of the U.S. power sector have been anxious to improve the trustworthiness of the emerging technologies.
According to ITI Director David M. Nicol, development of resilient Smart Grid technologies has grown to become one of the primary research areas of ITI.
"ITI's mission is about improving the trustworthiness and security of information systems, and we don't just write academic papers," Nicol stated. "We get our technologies working in the real world, identifying real applications and developing industry partnerships. And power grid trustworthiness is currently our single biggest application area. It's a topic with great national visibility now, because a lot of people are very concerned about the current vulnerabilities of the grid. Since ITI has so much expertise in this very hot research area, we've been putting more and more effort into it."
It's been just seven years since ITI started its first major power grid project, an NSF Cyber Trust Center called TCIP. Since then it's received about $30 million in funding for research on power grid trustworthiness.
"TCIP's success attracted so much industry and government interest that we've become a national leader in research on cyber security of critical power infrastructures," says Nicol. "The growth in opportunities made it imperative that we recruit someone of Al Valdes's caliber to lead these complex efforts and help develop new ones."
Valdes has more than 30 years of experience as an engineer and leader of cyber security research. In his most recent work, as a senior computer scientist at the SRI International research institute, he has focused on critical infrastructure systems in the oil & gas and electric sectors. He has led numerous information security projects for clients including the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Army, and the Navy. Both DHS and DOE drew on his expertise in developing their cyber security research roadmaps. Valdes is a co-inventor of multiple information security patents, and holds degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.
"ITI is very fortunate to have Al coming on board," says Nicol. "Not only does he bring exactly the right skillset to this job, but he's a great colleague and collaborator."
Valdes will assume the Smart Grid @ Illinois managing director responsibilities on July 1.