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Cyber-Physical Testbeds

Cyber-Physical Testbeds, illustration

Credit: Roy Wiemann

Modern societies depend on the quality and reliability of the services provided by networked critical infrastructures (NCIs). Physical infrastructures, including transportation systems, electricity grids, and telecommunication networks, deliver fundamental services for the smooth functioning of the economy and for the lives of all citizens. Accidental or intentional failure represents one of the most important risks faced today.

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The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in the use of the information and communication technologies (ICTs) within NCIs. The motivation for companies was mainly to reduce the cost of industrial installations and implement new services (such as remote monitoring and maintenance of infrastructures, energy markets, and the emerging smart grid). Despite clear advantages, the downside is widespread use of standard technology components exposes NCIs to significant but common cyberthreats; for instance, deliberate attacks through computer malware6 or unintentional threats due to mis-configuration and software bugs5 can lead to severe service outages. This was also highlighted by several studies and reports concerning security of supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA, systems,6,15 which represent core NCI infrastructure, monitoring and controlling physical processes. They consist mainly of actuators, sensors, and hardware devices that perform physical actions (such as open a valve), as well as the ICT devices and software that monitor and control physical processes. Unlike traditional ICT systems, where the effects of disruptive cyberattacks are generally limited to cyber operations, in the context of critical infrastructure assets, such attacks can result in the loss of vital services (such as transportation and water and gas supply). Assessing the effect of cyberthreats against both the physical and the cyber dimensions of NCIs requires an accurate scientific instrument for conducting experimental tests and taking measurements.


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