By Jason Hopkins
October 4, 2018 - The Department of Energy is awarding $28 million in grants to foment innovation and greater cybersecurity to protect the nation’s power grid.
The DOE announced Monday it will be allocating up to $28 million in funds — split among 11 different research projects — in an effort to discover new techniques to protect the country’s electrical grid, oil pipelines and other energy infrastructure. The announcement — the biggest research award ever made from the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response — indicates how seriously the government is taking the potential threat hackers pose to the nation’s electrical grid.
“Protecting the Nation’s energy delivery systems from cyber-threats is a top national priority,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement. “These awards will spur the next level of innovation needed to advance cyber resilience, ensuring that the Nation’s critical energy infrastructure can withstand potential cyber attacks while also still keeping the lights on.”
While most of the research and development projects will be directed toward protecting electric utility companies, research will also cover emerging threats in the oil and gas industry. For example, Baker Hughes and General Electric are leading an effort to construct an “advanced cyber-physical protection” system meant for natural gas compressor stations.
GE Global Research, ABB Inc. and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories are among some of the industrial automation companies to lead the research projects.
Dragos Inc., an industrial cybersecurity firm, won a muti-million dollar award for its “Neighborhood Keeper” project, which aims to alert officials of a potential utility hack without revealing the identity of the victim.
“At a time when the Senate and Congress are worrying about what’s actually going on [in utilities’ networks], this says: ‘Hold on, let’s see what’s going on,'” Dragos CEO Robert Lee explained to E&E News. “‘Let’s be truly informed with the actual intelligence we need to make the changes we want.'”
The threat of cyberattacks on critical grid infrastructure has become a growing concern for U.S. officials. The Department of Homeland Security revealed in July that Russian hackers successfully infiltrated the control rooms of several electric utilities in the past year, giving them the ability to disrupt the grid and cause blackouts.
DHS officials said at the time that the Russian hacking campaign against U.S. grid systems is likely ongoing.