Grant seeks to counter attacks on power grid

The risk of cyberattacks on physical infrastructure is growing at the same time the threat to federal computer networks has increased.

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The Energy Department gave Georgia Institute of Technology researchers $5 million to develop protocols and tools that can detect cyberattacks on the nation's utility companies.

According to the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), the grant will fuel a cooperative effort to detect "adversarial manipulation of the power grid." The initiative seeks to provide real-time protection for the energy infrastructure by using advanced modeling and simulation technologies linked to a network of sensors.

Protecting the nation's utility infrastructure has been a thorny issue. Most power companies and their infrastructure are privately owned, and despite the increasing threat of cyberattacks, private-sector entities have generally preferred voluntary guidelines rather than mandates from the federal government.

Furthermore, the risk of cyberattacks on those facilities' infrastructure is growing at the same time the cybersecurity threat is increasing for federal computer networks.

The government plays a direct role in protecting its own networks, but it has been moving to increase public/private partnerships and spur R&D spending on cybersecurity protections for utilities. In February 2013, President Barack Obama released a cybersecurity executive order that called for more collaboration between government and the private sector on technological protection for utilities. DOE has been central to the effort.

To develop cybersecurity protections under DOE's recent grant, GTRI researchers will work with Georgia Tech's National Electric Energy Testing, Research and Applications Center and the Strategic Energy Institute, as well as its own Cyber Technology and Information Systems Laboratory.

The project will consist of three phases at Georgia Tech -- research and development, test, and evaluation -- followed by a technology demonstration at various sites with the help of multiple utility companies.

As part of the development process, GTRI said researchers will simulate numerous types of cyberattacks and develop a real-time decision-making algorithm that can evaluate the impact of potential infrastructure malfunctions.

NEXT STORY: Obama trims intelligence gathering

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