For months, U.S. government officials have warned that hackers could attack the electric grid. But this week, the U.S. government added another layer of security.
The Department of Energy announced Oct. 1 as much as $28 million in research and development programs to protect power companies, including defending wind turbines from potential hackers. That’s a seemingly unusual angle of attack, but one that fits in with the type of threats experts say could increase as adversaries attempt to cripple the U.S. economy through the networks underpinning communications, medical and transportation systems.
The award will support 11 companies in research, development and demonstration of technology that can improve cyber-physical situational awareness and resilience of energy company’s critical infrastructure.
For instance, GE Global Research won three projects, two of which are based at the Idaho National Laboratory.
In one of those projects, a team of researchers will have up to $4.8 million to develop “adaptive defense technologies for wind power generation systems, using physical models and machine learning techniques that detect, localize and continue operation to survive sophisticated cyberattacks,” the department said.
In a press release, GE Global Research officials said the introduction of these technologies could lead to “a significantly more reliable and secure wind power infrastructure.”
GE plans to validate the research at a wind turbine testing site.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind power is expected to surpass hydropower as the largest renewable energy generation source this year, making it a more lucrative target.
The final amount awarded to each project was not finalized and is subject to negotiation.
All of the projects were aligned with the Department of Energy’s plan for energy-sector cybersecurity. In a March 2018 strategy, the department said it wanted to design cybersecurity into "emerging energy delivery system devices from the start.”
The plan includes the “Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems” research and development program that has provided 47 new tools and technologies to reduce energy-sector risk. Roughly 57 percent of American electricity customers receive power by participants to the program, according to the strategy.
The awards come as experts and government officials warn that nation states are increasingly using cyberattacks against critical infrastructure sectors, or parts of the U.S. economy that are essential to function.
In March, the U.S. government warned that the Russian government had penetrated some parts of the power grid.
Justin Lynch is the Associate Editor at Fifth Domain. He has written for the New Yorker, the Associated Press, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and others. Follow him on Twitter @just1nlynch.