Two Ph.D. Students Receive Funding from the IISP Cybersecurity Fellowship Program for Fall ’17

Atlanta   |   Aug. 30, 2017

As cybersecurity opportunities expand across campus, two Ph.D. students, Leilei Xiong and Karl Grindal, received funding from the IISP Cybersecurity Fellowship Program to support their research during Fall '17.

The Cybersecurity Fellowship Program supports unfunded and under-funded, emerging research so that outstanding Ph.D. students may do what they do best – take exceptional ideas from concept to proof. The Fellowship serves to motivate students with an advanced understanding of information assurance and cyberthreats to pursue innovative research without undue concern for lack of funds.

Xiong is a Ph.D. student in Electrical Engineering with a concentration in Electrical Energy and minor in Computer Science. She received both her Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and spent two years working full-time as a project engineer at GE Energy. She was awarded the prestigious President’s Fellowship upon admission to Georgia Tech. She is advised by Associate Professor Santiago Carlos Grijalva, associate director for electricity at Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Institute.

Grindal is a Ph.D. student in the School of Public Policy, advised by Professor Milton Mueller. He specializes in information and communications technology (ICT) policy, specifically in cybersecurity policy. Before Georgia Tech, Grindal worked as a researcher with the Atlantic Council and as executive director of the Cyber Conflict Studies Association. He was also co-author, with Jason Healy, of the well-regarded book, “A Fierce Domain: Conflict in Cyberspace, 1986 to 2012.”


About Their Research


Understanding and Detecting Cyber-Attacks on the Power Grid

Xiong’s research focuses on understanding and detecting malicious activities targeting the power grid. Over the past decade, the electric power grid has become increasingly intertwined with information and communication technology. The resulting cyber-physical system, or “smart grid,” inevitably becomes more vulnerable to cyberattacks, which might lead to widespread power outages that can cost millions of dollars and endanger human lives. Traditional methods of cybersecurity protection are effective in closing numerous vulnerabilities, but they will not always be successful in preventing attackers from penetrating the system. Therefore, it is important to understand the potential impact of various cyberattacks on the grid, and explore how to detect the presence of these attacks using specialized power system information.

“My research this semester will focus on evaluating the impact of denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on the power grid," Xiong says. "The impact will be quantified in terms of state estimator solution convergence, accuracy, and speed for several test systems. The results of this study would identify the weaknesses of the grid against DoS attacks and enable a better understanding of how to detect them.”

“Receiving this award means a lot to me, because it enables me to spend more time on tackling the critical issue of mitigating cyber-attacks on the power grid and further pursue this emerging line of research," she adds.


Modeling the Economics of Cybercrime

“My research this semester will explore cyber-crime and dark markets using the application of rational choice theory and price signaling," Grindal says. "This research will develop a typology of cyber-criminal behavior, assess whether criminal hackers act rationally in their targeting, and ultimately assess the market dynamics of corresponding criminal services. Fundamental to this research will be the testing of novel proxy variables to better assess corporate risk, with the intent of improving on proprietary cyber insurance models.”

“This award will enable me to further develop and test my conceptual framework for what incentives drive criminal hacking activity," he adds. "The integration of dark market prices into a public policy model remains comparatively novel.”

According to Grindal, basic research like the development of data sets, identification of proxy variables, and simple assessments of corresponding correlations is critically needed not only by academics in the field, but also by academics in the social sciences who wish to engage with the broader business community. One of the primary obstacles towards cyber insurance markets success, according to a recent Deloitte University Press report, is “a dearth of data.”

“[The kind of basic research I’m conducting] will create a foundation for further public policy and political science exploration.”