FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity, located within the National Security Agency, awarded $637,223 to Brajendra Panda, a University of Arkansas professor of computer science and computer engineering, to improve recovery methods for critical infrastructure systems following a cyber-attack.

According to a press release from the university, critical infrastructure includes things like the power grid, gas and oil pipelines, military installations and hospitals. An example of a recent attack on critical infrastructure is the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline last year.

The attack on computerized equipment left the pipeline down for six days while the company forked over an estimated $4.4 million in Bitcoin to pay the attackers, though much of it was subsequently recovered. In his proposal, Panda notes that the interdependence and interconnection of CI systems make them more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and can cause initial damage to spread quickly to other systems.

“Thus, a small vulnerability in one of these systems can result in crippling a large number of them,” Panda noted. “These systems are of heterogeneous type by nature, meaning they contain both heterogeneous software and data.”

Due to the complexity of CI systems, recovering them can cause significant delays, which is concerning given the time-sensitive nature of the functions these systems provide, such as electricity. Panda’s goal is to develop fast, accurate and efficient recovery mechanisms that, when coupled with the expeditious damage assessment techniques he has already developed, will offer an “integrated suite solution.”

This will allow affected CI systems to continue running while providing as many critical functionalities as possible. The two-year grant, with an option for a third year, builds on a previous $287,000 grant from the same funding agency that focused on expediting the assessment of damage following a cyber-attack.