SpiralGen to Develop Security Hardened Cyber Components for Nuclear Power Plants

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The system will help reduce the growing risk of malicious attacks against critical infrastructure.

While U.S. charges that the Chinese government hacked Federal computers emphasizes the importance of cybersecurity and the limits of security technology, the challenge is especially critical with complex cyber-physical systems such as nuclear power plants.

In work funded by the Department of Energy’s Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, SpiralGen, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based software company, will adapt technologies developed for complex military systems to provide new inner layers of defense against cyber attacks in nuclear power plants.

The urgent need for this project was made clear with the revelation of Stuxnet, a computer virus that was able to sabotage centrifuges used in Iran’s nuclear program.

SpiralGen’s project will develop provably-correct software components for controls, monitors and sensor fusion that are resistant to such attacks, as well as malfunctions. The new technology will be deployable in phases that are compatible with the regulatory requirements and normal outage schedules of nuclear power plants.

The first phase of the project will supply a proof-of-concept implementation of a nuclear power feedwater control subsystem and the first version of a toolkit to specify and build such components. This toolkit will improve the reliability of control systems while lowering the development cost.

“The world cannot afford another Stuxnet. We are confident our solution will have a positive impact in keeping our critical infrastructure safer,” says Mike Franusich, SpiralGen’s Vice President of Engineering, and the principal investigator of the project. Franusich joined SpiralGen in 2013 after spending eight years at Westinghouse.

By combining high assurance code developed with SpiralGen’s proprietary automatic code generation system, Spiral, a spoof-proof system of checks and balances will be created that alerts nuclear power workers to all anomalies in their system, accidental or man-made.

SpiralGen’s unique approach will have broad appeal, beyond nuclear power plants, to utilities and manufacturers of sensitive products. Their specialized tool set will provide cyber physical security that keeps ahead of even the hackers’ wildest dreams.

SpiralGen is a privately held company, formed in 2009 to deliver super fast software components for cutting-edge parallel computing platforms. The firm holds the exclusive license to Spiral software generation and optimization technology, developed under the lead of Carnegie Mellon University. Clients include businesses and government agencies. SpiralGen has worked with Intel, Mercury Systems, and Argonne National Labs, and has won grants from DARPA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the Technology Collaborative of Pittsburgh.

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