General Electric wants to replicate the human body’s ability to fight illness in order to improve power plant cyber security.

Called the “Digital Ghost,” the idea was inspired by the way the human immune system identifies and fights harmful micro-organisms.

“We’re trying to create the world’s first industrial immune system,” said Justin John, the controls engineer leading a team of GE Global Research and GE Power researchers on the project.

The new GE security system will use the massive library of performance data GE has accumulated for its turbines, generators and controls to instantly detect changes that might be the result of hacking.
GE digital twin
The US Department of Energy is providing about $3m of the roughly $4.1m budget for the project.

At GE’s Niskayuna campus, Digital Ghost is undergoing internal testing using customer data now, and discussions are underway with customers to begin field testing later this year.

John’s team is taking GE’s rapidly growing army of Digital Twins — computer models of its products and their performance characteristics — to create algorithms that measure the output of those power plant sensors and tell Digital Ghost if something is wrong — and how to correct it.

Digital Ghost has three stages: Detect the problem, locate it and neutralize it. And it will be autonomous, making the corrections without human activation, because it must be: The newest gas turbines adjust every 40 milliseconds, or 1,500 times a minute, which is far beyond the speed at which humans can react.

GE plans to roll out Digital Ghost in two phases: Able to detect and locate problems in 2018, and able to neutralize problems in 2019.

“In cybersecurity, finding new ways to protect critical industrial assets from cyber threats is a never-ending job,” John said. “With Digital Ghost, we’re creating brand new layer of defense and offense that will protect the brains of these cyberphysical systems and even neutralize threats.”

According to technology giant Cisco, there will be around 50 billion things connected to the internet by 2020. “As physical assets become more digitally driven, the need for technologies like Digital Ghost will only increase,” said Lalit Mestha, a principal engineer leading the Digital Ghost programme.

“The integration of digital technologies into the industrial world are transforming it and opening up an abundance of new growth opportunities for companies and dramatic improvements in the overall quality of life people can live,” Mestha added. “But in parallel, we must remain vigilant in developing new and better ways to protect and sustain the operation of these assets from being compromised, as is the case in the human body.”

And John added: John: “In the world of cybersecurity, there are no such things as guarantees. But adding new layers of protection such as Digital Ghost will ensure we are putting our strongest effort forward.”

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