Next Clean Energy Cyber Cohort Will Focus on Identifying Rogue Assets

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The Energy Department’s Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator matches innovators in critical infrastructure cybersecurity with industry experts and a high-tech testbed.

The Energy Department is searching for innovators with cybersecurity savvy to join the second cohort of its Clean Energy Cybersecurity Accelerator program, or CECA, as the group looks for ways to inventory all systems connected to the energy grid, even those from emerging and untested technologies.

The program—in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL—puts federal researchers and experts in the same room as academics, industry representatives and like-minded innovators to examine cybersecurity vulnerabilities that might be introduced by new clean energy technologies.

“Technologies and architectures are introduced to legacy systems every day, adding complexity and potential for new cyber vulnerabilities to emerge,” according to the CECA website. “Designed to bolster emerging technologies, CECA aims to identify the most urgent security gaps in the modern electrical grid and expedites disruptive solutions to market.”

For the upcoming cohort, CECA will focus on “solutions that actively identify all industrial control system assets connected to a utility's infrastructure, both physically and virtually, to understand the totality of assets that need to be monitored and protected within the environment,” the program’s website states. The tools must be able to identify systems—software and hardware—that were previously unidentified, unauthorized or might in some way be compromised.

“The main features of the solution to be assessed include, but are not limited to, the accuracy and richness of the asset information identified and the speed at which the information is gathered,” the application states.

While CECA is looking for innovative ideas, the technologies being proposed must be at Technology Readiness Level 4 or above to be considered.

The first cohort gathered in December to work on three technologies aimed at securing critical infrastructure: Blue Ridge Network’s LinkGuard, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Binary Armor and zero-trust remote access vendor Xage. The companies worked with NREL experts and utilities representatives from Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Duke Energy and Xcel Energy, each of which assisted with “strategic direction and cost-sharing,” according to CECA.

Those teams are currently working on a “technical assessment of their technologies and will have the opportunity to showcase their solutions using NREL’s world-class laboratory facilities,” according to the announcement.

The next group will include up to five members focused on the problem set. Applications are open through Feb. 10. Program leads will be hosting an informational Zoom webinar Jan. 17 at 1 p.m.

“As physical and virtual threats to our critical energy infrastructure continue to evolve, DOE is using all the tools at our disposal to lock down cybersecurity vulnerabilities of today and tomorrow,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Monday in the announcement. “By supporting new, innovative technologies, the CECA program will help bring cutting-edge solutions to market more rapidly—ensuring our nation’s electric grid is secure and reliable as it transitions to 100% clean energy.”