In June 2021, CNN asked U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm if U.S. enemies could shut down the power grid. She said they could. Meanwhile, the concern over energy grid attacks has increased with the Russian attack on Ukraine.

Attackers could take down the U.S. power grid by hitting only a few substations, said Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Due to growing concerns, the Department of Energy announced $12 million in funding for research projects. These aim to more securely develop the next generation of energy systems. What does this mean for the industry?

Threats to the Energy Sector

One problem is the threat of a complete shutdown of the energy grid. Following that, attacks in the energy industry are costly to both utilities and consumers. The 17th annual Cost of a Data Breach Report ranked the energy industry as fifth in costs of a data breach. The majority of cases were external attacks, and only 2% were inside jobs. These breaches cost an average of $4.65 million. In 2021, most attacks in the energy industry were social engineering attacks. Other types of common attacks include system intrusion and web applications.

Grant Funding

The $12 million grant funding creates the following six programs:

  • Develop artificial intelligence (AI) -based detection tools and design effective cyber threat mitigation strategies (award of $2 million to Florida International University)
  • Use AI-integrated, resilient and proactive system technologies and solutions to enable defense-in-depth security and resilience for cyber-physical systems (award of $2 million to Iowa State University)
  • Create the Tracking Real-time Anomalies in Power Systems program to detect and localize oddities in power grid cyber-physical systems (award of $1,939,416 to New York University)
  • Use AI and machine learning to develop techniques and scalable prototypes for intrusion response against advanced cyber-physical threats to power systems (award of $1,997,921 to Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station)
  • Develop a resilient, next-generation solid-state power substation. This will include cybersecurity considerations to improve adoption (award of $2 million to the University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • Create the Cyber REsilience of SubsTations program, which is a two-part system to detect and mitigate cyber incidents while maintaining secure communication and critical functions (award $1,997,864 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

‘Building a Stronger Grid’

“Investing in cutting-edge cyber security technology keeps us at the forefront of global innovation and protects America’s power grid in the face of increasing cyber threats from abroad,” said Granholm in a statement. “This funding will bolster our commitment to a secure and resilient clean energy future by fortifying American electricity systems and building a stronger grid.”

The U.S. needs to be looking for ways to secure the next-generation energy grid. That way, the nation can prevent costly shutdowns. Grants such as the recent $12 million can help ensure that. After all, the U.S. needs to remain ahead of attackers as new energy systems are developed.

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