EPRI-Led Collaborative Team Advances Cybersecurity for High-Power, Fast EV Charging

Posted to EPRI
image credit: This fast charging system deployed by Electrify America at San Francisco Premium Outlets supports a power level of 350 kilowatts. Photo courtesy of Electrify America.
Samantha Gilman's picture
Communications Manager Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)

Samantha Gilman is the communications manager for the Power Delivery and Utilization sector at EPRI. Samantha has spent a decade in communications, public relations, and digital marketing within...

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  • Feb 22, 2021

This article appeared in EPRI's Efficient Electrification newsletter and written by EPRI staff. You can sign up to receive future issues here.


For several years, the U.S. Navy has been expanding its electric vehicle (EV) fleets, and today it has approximately one thousand EVs on its U.S. bases. As these fleets continue to grow and as large EVs such as trucks and buses become more widely available, the Navy is investigating the deployment of fast charging technologies, including systems that supply 50 kilowatts of direct current (DC) power.

“This power level can easily support the Navy’s light-duty EV fleet,” said David Cook, an EV expert at the Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center, which tests and integrates new technologies to improve the readiness and resilience of naval shore facilities.

Cook is also closely watching the development of high-power DC fast charging technologies that can support power levels of 250 kilowatts or more. For context, heating, cooling, lighting, and other end uses in a 25,000 square-foot building may use about 250 kilowatts. Chargers with lower power levels, known as Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, are 6.6 kilowatts and 50-150 kilowatts, respectively.

“In the future, high-power, fast charging systems can potentially enable the Navy to expand its use of electric buses and other heavy-duty EVs as well as EVs for high-mileage applications, such as passenger shuttles,” said Cook. “Charging buses with Level 2 alternating current chargers could take days, as compared with 20 or 30 minutes for a high-power, fast charging system. Passenger shuttles do not have the time for extended charging in their daily schedules. High-power, fast charging times more closely resemble conventional fueling, addressing a common concern for prospective EV users.”

Cook adds that implementing high-power, fast charging systems must be done with great care.

“While these higher power charging stations are faster and serve more vehicles, they require further security evaluation,” said Cook. We want to remain proactive and vigilant to ensure EVs and other new energy technologies include the latest security features.”

Cook and his Alternative Fuel Vehicle Team at the Expeditionary Warfare Center plan to use new EPRI software designed to evaluate potential vulnerabilities and control strategies for high-power charging systems. “Modeling the risks allows naval facilities managers to recommend and incorporate security features early in the procurement process with charging station manufacturers,” said Cook. “This ultimately saves money by avoiding field retrofits and mitigating potential threats before they are widespread.”

The software, called the Integrated Grid Security Risk Management Tool, is one of several outcomes of an EPRI-led collaborative team that is defining, developing, and validating high-power fast charging cybersecurity technologies. The diverse members of the EV Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group include EV manufacturers, charging station manufacturers, charging network operators, utilities, national laboratories, government agencies, and standards organizations. More than a hundred participants have met monthly since 2018. Lab testing has occurred at three locations: EPRI’s Cybersecurity Research Laboratory (CRL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Potential Grid Reliability Impacts

While high-power, fast charging systems offer great potential to reduce range anxiety and promote vehicle electrification, cybersecurity experts are concerned about several potential risks they pose. For example, adversaries could steal customer payment information during charging transactions, use vehicle global positioning systems (GPS) to geolocate or track drivers , disable charging infrastructure, or launch viruses into EVs or grid infrastructure.  An unaddressed security vulnerability  could result in a large number of EVs charging simultaneously, leading to an unexpectedly high peak demand. It could also make numerous EVs discharge simultaneously, resulting in an oversupply of power.

“A breach that causes a rapid, large swing in electricity demand or supply can adversely impact grid reliability,” said Rish Ghatikar, an EPRI expert on information and communication technologies for distributed energy resources. “It’s essential to get ahead of cybersecurity risks for EV charging because electric transportation is a relatively new market. A major security failure could damage the industry’s credibility and slow EV adoption.”

“EVs are the fastest growing segments of the automotive industry and are increasingly connected with customers, the grid, and systems that handle financial and other sensitive information,” said Sunil Chhaya, an EPRI expert on EV-grid integration. “A breach in any communications link in EV charging systems could have far-reaching consequences. Recognizing the absence of uniform methods and actionable tools to assess the cybersecurity impacts of the various parts of EV charging systems, EPRI has been working to fill this critical gap since 2016. Our investigations aim to develop tools that industry stakeholders can use to harden real-world EV charging deployments.”

Security Down to the Component Level

To implement robust cybersecurity for high-power, fast charging systems, security measures are needed for dozens of connected sub-systems (such as EVs, charging stations, and utilities) and components (such as vehicle telematics systems, customer smartphones, charging equipment, utility demand response systems, and servers managed by charging station operators).

As a first step, the EV Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group characterized the communications and data exchanges among the sub-systems and components. Next, they assessed the threats and risks that these posed to users and the grid and recommended controls to address the threats. The three labs have simulated cyberattacks on various components to determine if the controls needed improvements.

“We have identified all the components, how they communicate, and what information they potentially expose,” said Ghatikar. “It’s a complex system, but it’s a known complexity.”

An example of a control recommended by the working group is encryption of consumers’ credit card information. “If credit card information is not encrypted, a hacker can steal it by accessing the systems where it is stored,” said Ghatikar. “We also recommended against storing the information locally at the charging station, which would make it easier to steal.”

The team created a large diagram known as a reference network architecture that shows the connections among sub-systems and components, the information that flows through them, the stakeholders that operate them, and the vulnerabilities.

Finally, the group developed the Integrated Grid Security Risk Management Tool, which is essentially a digital version of the reference architecture. Utilities, charging station manufacturers, EV manufacturers, facilities managers, charging station operators, and other stakeholders can use the publicly available Web-based tool to evaluate cybersecurity risks and identify necessary controls for EV charging systems under construction. The tool enables users to navigate through each subsystem and zoom in on component-level physical and communication interfaces to view the risks, risk types, and recommended controls. It is expected to be published in Spring 2021 and can be applied to high-power DC fast charging systems, DC fast charging systems, and Level 2 chargers.

“We’re interested in this tool because it’s been comprehensively tested and peer-reviewed by government and industry organizations with a mutual interest in a secure electric power grid,” said the Navy’s David Cook.

EPRI also has developed a prototype for a secure network interface card, which transmits the majority of high-power, fast charging communications. “The prototype integrates cybersecurity and physical security to enable a secure link among EVs, EV charging stations, charging station operators, and utilities,” said EPRI’s Chhaya. “We plan to open-source the hardware and software designs to inform the card’s standardization across manufacturers.”

Founded in 1972, EPRI is the world's preeminent independent, non-profit energy research and development organization, with offices around the world.

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