US Dept of Energy spends $34m on securing the smart grid

The funds are being poured into new, innovative ways to keep our critical infrastructure safe from cyberattack.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $34 million in funding to projects aimed at securing the smart grid.

In total, 12 projects have been accepted as part of the Obama Administration's focus on energy-based infrastructure and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability's Cybersecurity of Energy Delivery Systems (CEDS) program.

The DOE says the projects will aim to enhance the "reliability and resilience" of US smart grids through "innovative, scalable, and cost-effective research." The main focus, however, is on security -- and how to keep core infrastructure and electrical grids as safe as possible from outside intrusion.

In 2015, Ukraine's power grid was compromised by malware, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power. Over in South Korea, nuclear power plants have become targets for what is likely to be state-sponsored attacks, and Stuxnet -- the 2009 worm which caused Iran nuclear facilities to become out of control highlights the danger digital weapons now possess.

As cyberattacks are now commonplace, country infrastructure and electrical grids may become high-priority targets for attackers -- and it is up to governments and vendors to invest in security now.

According to the DOE (.PDF), there are five main areas of interest through the security projects, listed blow:

  • The ability to detect and respond to cyberattacks designed to avoid detection.
  • Ways to integrate of renewables onto the power grid at the generation, transmission and/or distribution levels and make them more secure from cyberattacks.
  • Reducing exposures of energy delivery systems to cyberattacks, thereby making the systems more secure.
  • Detecting hostile hardware, firmware, and/or software introduced at some point during the manufacture of energy delivery systems.
  • Identifying gaps in the Roadmap to Achieve Energy Delivery Systems Cybersecurity and proposing innovative technical solutions to the identified risk.

General Electrics, one of the companies awarded research funding, will develop and create an automatic cyberattack anomaly detection and accommodation (ADA) system for power plants. The DOE wants the system to be able to localize where cyberattacks occur -- but maintain normal operation in both standard and "degraded" conditions.

Intel is also participating in the scheme. The tech giant will develop an architecture solution to "securely connect energy infrastructure devices to the cloud to allow the devices to interact with each other," according to the DOE.

In addition, universities and other companies will be working on projects related to secure domain layer systems, educational programs, secure communications, and data analytics platforms which can detect the manipulation of energy delivery control systems.

The US department has not revealed when the funds will be released or whether there are deadlines for the research projects to be completed.

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