Researchers examine the cybersecurity of Canada’s power and IoT sectors

Researchers at a Québec university are studying two of the country’s biggest cybersecurity issues: the readiness of utility companies to face cyberattacks and the security of wireless devices connected to the industrial internet.

News of the projects came Thursday as Ottawa announced it has given the University of Sherbrooke the second half of nearly $2 million for the studies.

Sébastien Roy, a professor in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and one of the co-principal investigators, told IT World Canada that the money was awarded over two years ago when work began, but the announcement was delayed by the pandemic. Reports on both are due in 2024.

A project assesses the resilience of Hydro Sherbrooke, a medium-sized power distributor, in the context of Industry 4.0, specifically its ability to detect new threats. According to Roy, this project is almost complete.

Industry 4.0 refers to the integration of new technologies (Internet of Things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence) into the production centers and overall operations of a company.

The second project analyzes the security of devices of the industrial internet of things with 5G connectivity and edge computing. It includes studying the applications of the devices in agriculture, water management and facility management.

Partners in this study include Bell Canada, VMware, Honeywell and the cities of Sherbrooke and Magog, QC.

For both projects, lessons learned will be shared across the electrical, telecom and IT manufacturing industries, Roy said.

Public Safety Canada’s funding came as part of the National Cyber ​​Security Strategy.
The projects are supervised by a multi-faculty and multi-disciplinary team composed of five university faculties, 11 researchers and more than 50 students from 14 countries.

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“This work will strengthen the resilience of Canada’s critical infrastructure, or the assets and equipment that a third party must access to offer its own product or service in a marketplace,” the university said in a press release.

“There’s a lot of synergy between the two projects, although the goals are different,” Roy said. The underlying theme in both is critical infrastructure protection. The first case is about energy distribution, the second more about communication infrastructures.”

5G differs from previous cellular technologies, Roy said, in that it’s less centralized and brings more control to the edge of wireless networks. This raises security concerns, particularly for access authentication. It doesn’t help that 5G IoT devices typically “have no security,” he added.

“In the end, we will be able to recommend best practices and technological architectures for these areas for specific use cases to the government and our industry partners. We are now training more than 50 students at master’s, doctoral and postdoc level, as well as many interns, who will then use their know-how in industry.”