Improving Cybersecurity- A Crucial Line Of Defence

Currently a third-year PHD student in Electrical Engineering, Hanieh Tabatabaei is advancing knowledge in networked systems control on how to keep complex systems operational in the face of faults and cyberattacks.

Hanieh Tabatabaei

Hanieh Tabatabaei

  • Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
  • Campus: Okanagan

Wanting a career where she could make a difference 

Like many people who choose to major in engineering, Hanieh loved physics and math from a young age. “I saw engineering as a way to pursue the subjects I was most interested in,” she says. “I also understood that even though not every engineer is going to be a Nikola Tesla, even ‘ordinary engineers’ make significant contributions to the world. That was important to me. I also liked that – broadly speaking – engineers, unlike scientists, can more easily see the visible results and impact of their work.” 


A passion for research

Hanieh completed an undergraduate degree in power electrical engineering and a master of science in control systems, both from the Amirkabir University of Technology – Tehran Polytechnic. Her master’s research focused on control methods for power systems.

“I love research and solving complex problems,” she says. “I knew I could go and work in industry, but I wanted to advance research in new areas, which is why I decided to do a PhD.”

When she was exploring her options, Canada emerged at the top of her list for its multicultural diversity, the quality of its universities and the innovative research work being done in her field. 

Hanieh moved to Canada in September 2021 to study under Dr. Ahmad Al-Dabbagh, Assistant Professor and Principal’s Research Chair in Control Systems, working out of the Okanagan Laboratory for Control Systems Research

Dr. Ahmad Al-Dabbagh

Okanagan Laboratory for Control Systems Research

Networked systems and cybersecurity

“My research focus is on cybersecurity and fault diagnoses in networked systems,” says Hanieh. “Networked systems are groups of devices – like collaborative robots, photovoltaic panels or autonomous vehicles – that are connected through communication links, enabling them to operate efficiently. The downside to that is if there is a problem in one device, it can affect the whole system in a chain reaction.”

These systems are often vulnerable to cyberattacks. Hanieh cites Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 and 2016, as well as more recent attacks since Russia’s invasion of the country in 2022 that have had far-reaching consequences. 

“Today’s wars are complicated and dangerous,” she says. “As an electrical engineer, I can help systems perform safely in the face of attacks by designing advanced algorithms and methods to prepare for potential threats and to improve existing defences.” 

Hanieh develops mathematical models that can diagnose if there are anomalies in a networked system. Anomalies might be false flags, or they could be the result of a fault in the system or attacks by malicious agents. She then designs algorithms that enable the system to recover to its operating state. 

“Depending on the type of anomaly – be it a fault or cyberattack – we can then take counter measures to restore the disrupted system to a functioning state.” 


Research scholar and teaching assistant positions 

Over the course of her PhD, Hanieh has worked as a research assistant and teaching assistant for courses on systems and control, linear algebra, modern control, engineering computation and instrumentation, electrical circuits and power, and digital control. 

She says she loves working with students and helping them learn complex material. 

In the fall of 2023, she took a position as a research scholar with KIOS Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence in Cyprus, working on projects related to networked systems, cybersecurity, fault diagnosis and robust control. “I visited test beds and pieces of equipment that KIOS researchers have developed and are working with, which interacts with practical aspects of my research,” she says. “Meeting with eminent researchers and collaborating with some of them have been some of the other exceptional outcomes of this visit. KIOS is a specialized institute for research in electrical engineering, and it was really exciting for me to be among this amazing group of researchers who also collaborate on interdisciplinary projects.” 

KIOS Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence

Watch Hanieh Tabatabaei speak at UBC Engineering Open House


For Hanieh, pursuing her PhD in Canada has opened up many new potential pathways, enabling her to advance research in an area that fascinates her while living in a new country and being exposed to new cultures and ideas. 

“It’s been a thrilling experience,” she says. “There are so many opportunities that come with living in a new country and they all add up to help you become a better person. If you love research, I recommend a PhD because you have the time to go in-depth in areas that you are curious about."

It takes a lot of energy, but it’s worth it because you get to do some amazing things.

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