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U.S. Government Grants More Money to Lock Down Cybersecurity in Energy

The Department of Energy has announced 11 new grants totaling more than $30 million to develop technology to help the energy sector enhance its cybersecurity.

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Cybersecurity is no longer just the stuff of fiction thrillers. It’s also no longer only the concern of huge nuclear facilities. Cyber concerns can be related to outside attacks, or they could come from within. They can have malicious intent, or they can be caused by sheer stupidity.

But there’s no question that the U.S. government has taken notice. Together, the Department of Energy (DoE) and Department of Homeland Security are demanding tighter security on existing grid infrastructures, for example. They’re also putting their money where their mouth is.

The DoE announced 11 new grants totaling more than $30 million to develop technology to help the energy sector enhance its cybersecurity. “Protecting our electric grid and oil and gas infrastructure from cyber attack is critical to our preparedness, to our economic security and to public safety,” said Representative David Price (D-NC), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

One such grant went to ABB, which was awarded almost $2.8 million. ABB, which has its North American headquarters in Cary, N.C., and a major research facility and Smart Grid Center on North Carolina State’s Centennial Campus, will lead a project that will focus on developing a system to allow electrical substation devices to work together to validate the integrity of communications along a power distribution network, such as commands to change a relay’s configuration, and assess the potential impact on grid operations.

“Projects such as ABB’s will make every American more secure by giving energy generators and our homeland security professionals the tools they need to meet the challenges of an evolving cyber landscape,” Price said.

Three other proposals were accepted from Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), the company announced, bringing the total number of projects SEL has worked on through the cybersecurity program to eight. SEL will partner with utilities, universities and national laboratories from across the country to identify, design and test new solutions for protecting critical infrastructure from cyber attacks. SEL will then manufacture the products in Pullman, Wash.

The first project will develop an integrated cyber-physical access control system that simplifies the process of managing access to energy delivery facilities. Partners include Tennessee Valley Authority and Sandia National Laboratories.

The second project will develop a control system-focused, software-defined networking flow controller, which will allow utilities to centrally manage their local area networks (LANs) more securely, providing real-time awareness of cyber activity and rerouting network traffic in response to cyber intrusions. Partners include Ameren, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

The third project will develop a software-defined data radio integrating existing SEL cybersecurity features for more secure “last mile” wireless communications used with remote energy delivery infrastructure, such as distribution substations. Partners include San Diego Gas & Electric and PNNL.

The other projects awarded grants in the latest round of funding:

  • Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will develop a framework that allows utilities to centrally manage the remote configuration of their energy delivery system devices more securely.
  • Foxguard Solutions will develop a service that allows utilities to simplify the process of keeping up to date with the most current firmware and software patches and updates.
  • Georgia Tech Applied Research will develop a technology that evaluates energy delivery system control commands to anticipate their impact on power grid operations and, if needed, implement cybersecurity responses to prevent disruptions.
  • Grid Protection Alliance will develop an architecture that enables more secure substation communications for data generated by legacy or modern energy delivery devices.
  • National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) will develop a network that allows utilities and small electric cooperatives with limited resources to centrally manage their networks more securely.
  • TT Government Solutions will develop a technology that analyzes and visualizes smart meter wireless communications to quickly detect unusual behavior that could suggest a cyber attack.
  • Viasat will develop an architecture that gives utilities awareness of the status of their energy delivery systems’ cybersecurity, and allows them to automatically respond to cyber intrusions as predetermined in the utility’s cybersecurity policy.

Since 2010, the DoE has invested more than $100 million in cybersecurity R&D through awards and funding provided to industry, universities and national laboratories. 

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