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Troubleshooting in smart grids

Nepal-born Sarita Paudel is an expert in cyber-physical systems. In collaboration with the Austrian Institute of Technology she researches cyberattacks in smart grids. As a professor at IMC Krems, she shares her know-how with students and fellow researchers.

Sarita Paudel is a professor in the Institute of Digitalisation and Informatics at IMC Krems. As an expert in cyber-physical systems, she researches cyberattacks in smart grids.

Dr. tech. Dipl.-Ing. Sarita Paudel studied at Nepal Engineering College in Kathmandu, Nepal, before she moved to Vienna and completed a master’s degree in “Software Engineering and Internet Computing” at the Vienna University of Technology. Her master thesis in cooperation with the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) was titled “Security Engineering and Software Development in Critical Infrastructure IT in the Cloud”. In 2021 she completed her PhD thesis “Detecting False Data Injection Attacks against Smart Grid Wide Area Monitoring Systems”, again at the Vienna University of Technology in cooperation with the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), which had submitted a dissertation project proposal to the Austrian Research Promotion Agency FFG, which funded Paudel’s project.

Her professional career started as a software developer in Kathmandu. After moving to Vienna, Paudel worked as a research assistant and junior scientist at the Austrian Institute of Technology. In 2020 she started as a part-time lecturer at IMC Krems. Since September 2021 she has been working as a full-time professor at the Institute of Digitalisation and Informatics in the Department of Business, where she teaches “Introduction to Programming” in theory and exercises, “Technical Foundations of Computer Science”, “Scientific Skills and Writing”, “Bachelor Exposé Preparation”, “Bachelor Seminar and Bachelor Paper”, “Computational Thinking” and “Data Science”.

Focus on cyber security

Due to the increasing use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in power grids, they are enriched with new, “intelligent” functionalities (“smart grids”), while the probability of cyberattacks is increasing at the same time. The focus of Paudel’s research is on improving the security of cyber-physical systems, “in particular, detecting cyberattacks against wide area monitoring systems in smart grids”, she explains. Different false data injection attacks on measurements can be detected by analysing different data features. “We investigate the characteristics of important and distinct methods for detecting false data injection attacks to a wide area monitoring system. A single method may not detect all types of attacks or may not perform best for all attack types. A combination of different methods may help to improve anomaly detection performance and enables to detect different attack types. Our anomaly detection model uses different methods in order to detect the types of false data injection attacks more effectively. Further, our model combines the methods and enhances the anomaly detection performance,” Paudel says.
In this project, the researchers develop an anomaly detection model by considering properties of critical infrastructure aiming to deploy the model in the critical infrastructure of a power system. The anomaly detection model detects types of false data injection attacks by considering lightweight statistical methods so that a human operator is able to understand the results from the detection methods and have them readily explainable. Results of this dissertation are published at workshops and conferences. “The impacts of this research are manifold,” Paudel says. “Smart grid monitoring and control can benefit from the risk analysis conducted as part of our research. Additionally, the different methods investigated and utilised in the experiments can help in the identification of the proper analytical tool for anomaly detection. Last but not least, our research suggests that a combination of different methods is needed for trustworthy anomaly detection in smart grids.”

Curiosity and motivation

Paudel enjoys the echo her research findings cause in the scientific community: “Based on my experience, publishing and presenting publications in the scientific community, for example at conferences or workshops, motivates me to keep going in research. Meeting academics and people from the industry also inspires me to stay in research.” It is her curiosity about new things and doing creative work that motivate the young scientist in research. She feels she is in the right place and would like to stay in academia.
Motivating and inspiring young women by science and technology is an important topic for Paudel, who is a female exception in a primarily male world. “Young women need to be included, recognised and heard without biases,” she says. “Young women can be inspired by promoting initiatives and role models. For instance, positive information, in particular about role models – how women succeeded in overcoming stereotypes and breaking through glass ceilings – could be an inspiration.” Her own excitement could motivate students. Research allows scientists to pursue their interests by leveraging their problem-solving skills. “We challenge ourselves in a new way to learn new things. It helps us develop lifelong valuable skills like time management, multi-tasking, and critical analysis of work,” Paudel adds.
“I usually set goals for my future. My goals for the next five years motivate me to develop my career and achieve the goals”, the researcher explains how she finds motivation. When she spends time with her family she relaxes. The best thing on days off and after work is the time she spends with her husband and daughter.