Providing Autonomous Capabilities for Evolving SCADA (PACES)

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Electronics Electrical Eng and Comp Sci


SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) has proved to be a powerful and successful technology. Across the world SCADA systems are deeply integrated into the large scale infrastructures used in power generation, power transmission, radioactive waste processing, manufacturing, refining, water treatment, space exploration and various military applications. Traditionally SCADA implementations adopt a centralised architecture, either across one single geographical site, or across multiple sites using proprietary communications protocols. In spite of this trend to distributed solutions the supervisory control function continues to be performed at a centralised location, typically supervised by trained personnel using compliant HMI (Human-Machine Interface) tools. This centralised architecture presents overwhelming problems for system designers needing to integrate ever more diverse components and to scale to larger, more complex deployments. Moreover, this increasing complexity can realistically only be achieved through the adoption of autonomous or intelligent system components that can replace the supervisory function provided by humans.

More recent trends show SCADA systems incorporating widely available COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) software to deliver functionality and adopting recognised communications standards such as TCP/IP to facilitate integration and remote administration. The use of COTS increases available functionality and robustness but introduces new vulnerabilities. Attackers can exploit their knowledge of such widely available components and attacks can be 'designed' in ways previously not possible with the earlier proprietary systems. Closely linked to security is the need for fault tolerance. Here too we must develop intelligent SCADA systems that can self-monitor and detect anomalous behaviour (resulting from malicious attack or component fault) and invoke response that protects the goals of the whole system.

The next generation of SCADA systems must develop a set of autonomous and intelligent capabilities to address a number of pressing requirements. Problems presented by increasing process complexity, advances in sensor technologies, the increasing demand for integration with other enterprise solutions, increasingly inadequate security protection and a higher required standard of fault tolerance must all be solved. To provide solutions to these problems the proposed research focuses on the development of a novel Multi-Agent System (MAS) architecture. This architecture is integrated with an advanced event reasoning framework that can fully exploit sensor data and domain knowledge, including treatment of inherent uncertainties, incompleteness and inconsistency to autonomously infer system state and crucially to inform human and autonomous decision makers in the system.

Increased autonomy presents new challenges of system security. The next generation of autonomous SCADA must detect, diagnose and respond in real-time to security breaches and anomalous behaviours. The proposed research exploits new Deep Packet Inspection capabilities and network traffic analysis to develop a unique 'cyber-sensor', providing visibility of overall system health and integrity to human operators and autonomous components. Brought together, these novel research outputs will equip the next generation of autonomous SCADA systems with the capabilities to respond in real-time to evolving situations, self-awareness of changes and abnormal behaviours, fault and noise tolerance, and real-time decision support.

Planned Impact

Beyond the immediate academic beneficiaries it is anticipated that the following groups will also benefit from the research undertaken:

(1) Corporate and Governmental Bodies: Bodies tasked with predicting future trends in large-scale autonomous and intelligent control systems, such as next generation SCADA will gain insight into emerging capabilities, opportunities for exploitation, security planning and pathways to integration. We believe all six industrial partners currently linked with this call (BAE Systems, NNL, Sellafield Ltd, Cisco, SciSys and Network Rail) will have opportunity to benefit from the findings of this proposal.

(2) UK PLC: The increasing scale and complexity of industrialisation in various parts of the globe and the pressures for increased efficiency in such processes presents an opportunity for the UK economy to place itself at the centre of a vast and expanding sector facilitating such large scale infrastructures offering autonomous and intelligent implementations.

(3) World Citizens: The pervasiveness of supervisory control systems such as SCADA mean that efficiency improvements in these systems have far reaching effects. Efficiencies in service delivery and security inevitably enable improved, cheaper production and delivery of goods and services to global citizens. These efficiencies could manifest themselves in many areas such as reliable treatment and distribution of drinking water, reliable fault-tolerant treatment of nuclear waste, efficient power distribution to electrified railways facilitating cheaper rail travel, increased confidence in the security of critical national infrastructure installations.

The proposers envisage that the proposed research will deliver technology classified at TRL4 (Technology Readiness Level 4) on completion of the programme in 36 months from the start date. The technology will be demonstrable via full scale simulations. Models will be ready for test or evaluation in field scenarios.


10 25 50
Description We have designed and developed a number of advanced software tools, openly available, for developing multi-agent systems in an uncontrollable environment.

Theoretically, we have produced some new results (1) a new framework for managing different types of uncertainty in a multi-agent systems; (2) several advanced online planning algorithms considering risks, resource constraints, or new plans; (3) the results of this project has helped to secure an EU H2020 project which utilized the ideas of planning.
Exploitation Route Through research, PhD training, and industry engagement.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Transport

Description Public awareness for the potential significant impact of the intelligent autonomous systems research to the society.
Sector Education,Other
Impact Types Societal

Description Consultation by NI government for establishing Data Analytics and Exploitation Centre
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Description Talk at the event organized by NI government on Data Analytics, Intelligent Systems
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
Description Autonomous Systems Underpinning Research (ASUR) (project title: Personalising Autonomous Systems )
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2014 
End 11/2014
Description DEVELOP: Developing Careers through Social Networks and Transversal Skills (EU H2020)
Amount £285,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2016 
End 10/2019
Title A tool for detecting inconsistency in knowledge bases 
Description A tool has been developed to detect and identify inconsistencies in arbitrary knowledge bases, putting theory into practice, 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact IBM (Northern Ireland) is looking into the possibility to commercialize it. 
Description Queen's University Belfast Research Impact Showcase Event: Advancing Knowledge, Changing Lives Research Showcase (10th November 2014) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Being selected as one of the successful stories to showcase at the annual Queen's University Belfast Research Impact event. I displayed the results developed in the EPSRC funded project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Talk at the Northern Ireland Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Give a talk on how my research will benefit to the society. I presented the research finding in my group, including from this project and how the results can be applied to addressing global challenges.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
Description Talk at the event organized by NI government on Data Analytics, Intelligent Systems 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The workshop set up by NI government was to explore potential impact of Data Analytics and Intelligent Systems for NI economy. I was invited to give a talk at this workshop to highlight the views of university researchers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015