US one step closer to cyber guards for nation's electric grid

DOE group would speed research, bulk up smart grid technologies

The US Department of Energy this week officially opened up the bidding for a National Electric Sector Cyber Security Organization that that would protect the nation's electrical grid from cyber attacks.  

According to the DOE: the agency has set an aggressive goal to meet the Nation's need for a reliable, efficient and resilient electric power grid, as well as improved accessibility to a variety of energy sources for generation. In order to achieve this, an independent organization is needed to provide executive leadership to facilitate research, development and deployment priorities, identify and disseminate best cyber security practices; organize the collection, analysis, monitoring, and dissemination of infrastructure vulnerabilities and threats; and enhance cyber security of the electric grid including control and IT systems. 

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In January, the DOE said it would spend $8.5 million to set up such an organization that would speed research, development and deployment priorities, including policies and protocols. 

At that time the DOE said that the electric system is not the Internet and it needs to be carefully tended and can survive an intentional cyber assault with no loss of critical functions. 

According to the DOE such an organization could help address a number of key challenges, including:

  • Creating an environment to promote information sharing about real-world, cross-sector attacks.
  • Developing and implementing wire encryption technology to protect communication links.
  • Continuing funding and use of the National SCADA Test Bed.
  • Developing security solutions for legacy systems.
  • Identifying best practices for connecting legacy systems to business networks.
  • Developing a security plan for incident response and recovery.
  • Developing an automated system for managing security events.
  • Agreeing on metrics/standards for measuring security.
  • Identifying effective gateway security tools.
  • Ease of sophisticated attack. Cyber attack tools are becoming more sophisticated, while the knowledge required to use them is decreasing.
  • Reliance on commercial software. Many software programs used in control systems are produced outside the US and fail to address US security concerns.  

It is paramount that smart grid devices and interoperability standards include protections against cyber intrusions and have systems that are designed from the start (not patches added on) that prevent unauthorized persons from gaining entry through the millions of new access points created by the deployment of smart grid technologies, the DOE stated.  

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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