US power grid gets better cyber defenses thanks to new initiative

In an effort to strengthen and protect the nation’s electrical grid from hackers, the White House is launching an initiative with the private sector to develop a “maturity model” that allows utility companies to assess their current capabilities and analyze vulnerabilities.

Led by the departments of Energy and Homeland Security, the Electric Sector Cybersecurity Risk Management Maturity project blends industry and government expertise to expand on current cybersecurity measures and strategies.


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The project will focus on performance-based strategies and concrete steps to measure progress of cybersecurity in the electric sector, White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt said in a Jan. 5 statement.

“It is important to understand the sector’s strengths and remaining gaps across the grid to inform investment planning and research and development, and enhance our public-private partnership efforts,” he added.

The Energy Department will host workshops with industry over the next months to draft a maturity model that can be used across the electric sector. More than a dozen electric utilities and grid operators are expected to test the model, gauge its effectiveness and validate results. The pilot will also be the jumping-off point to developing a risk management maturity model, which will be available to the electric sector later this summer.

A December 2011 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology highlighted the importance of federal agencies working with industry to safeguard the electric grid. Although MIT researchers said the power grid is resilient, a number of serious challenges over the next two decades will require that the government takes action now.   

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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