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1/10/2012
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Feds Seek Stronger Security For Power Grid

Departments of Energy and Defense will create a cybersecurity model to test and apply across the utility industry, as they work to protect the U.S. electricity grid.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
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Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DHS) have teamed up to create a cybersecurity model that can be tested and applied across the utility industry to provide insight into how to better protect the U.S. electricity grid.

The Electric Sector Cybersecurity Risk Management Maturity Model pilot project aims to work with experts in both the public and private sector to use existing cybersecurity strategies to develop a so-called "maturity model" that can identify how secure the electricity grid currently is from cyber threats, according to a White House blog post by White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt. It will then test that model with participating utility companies to see how well it works, he said.

Maturity models use best practices to identify strengths and weaknesses in an organization or system, and are used by industry sectors to improve performance, efficiency, and quality.

"Gaining knowledge about strengths and remaining gaps across the grid will better inform investment planning and research and development, and enhance our public-private partnership efforts," Schmidt said.

[ For more background on U.S. cybersecurity, see White House Sets Cybersecurity R&D Priorities. ]

The DOE is taking the lead on the project, with help from the DHS. Over the next few months, the DOE will host workshops with the private sector to draft a maturity model for the electricity industry. That model will be tested across the more than a dozen electric utilities and grid operators that are expected to participate in the pilot program, and a risk-management model will be released to the electricity sector later this summer.

The Obama administration has put a particular focus on protecting the electricity grid and other control systems from a persistent and growing cybersecurity threat, and patterning with the private companies that control that sector has been key to the effort.

Indeed, if viruses such as the Stuxnet and Duqu are any indication, hackers now are designing threats to explicitly attack control systems, which has not only the feds but other government leaders around the world on alert about how to protect these critical systems.

The new DOE-DHS project itself grew out of previous work federal officials have done to examine the threat to the electricity grid. Cybersecurity is one of four key themes of the administration's Policy Framework for a 21st Century Grid, released last June. Two months later, the DOE released the 2011 Roadmap to Achieve Energy Delivery Systems Cybersecurity, an update to a similar document produced in 2006. The earlier document outlined a strategic framework to be implemented over the next decade to create and operate a resilient energy system that can recover in the case of a major cyber incident.

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