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Keeping the U.S. energy grid safe

Electric voltage towers

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has granted 11 awards totaling approximately $30 million for the development of new tools and technologies to strengthen protection of the nation’s electric grid and oil and gas infrastructure from cyber-attack, including an award of $3.25 million to ViaSat Inc.

The company will work closely with Southern California Edison and a large utility headquartered in the South to investigate, develop, and deploy an enhancement to ViaSat’s critical infrastructure protection system that incorporates policy-based automated responses to cyber events, increasing the resiliency of transmission and distribution networks.

The cybersecurity system focuses on securing utilities’ operational grids, enabling energy, water, oil and gas, and transportation operations crews to manage security through a virtual display of the network. The system implements an authenticated and encrypted “security fabric” that protects machine to machine communications between devices, and provides grid operators with the ability to visualize the security state of the system. Sensors continually update the information in real time, creating a hierarchical view that operators can use to identify issues, then drill down to individual nodes to contain or fix problems as they arise.

Augments Traditional IT Security

Traditional IT approaches have not adequately addressed the real-time control systems in the operational grid. ViaSat infrastructure protection provides these added benefits:

- Cyber-defense in depth by applying as an overlay to the best IT system security using firewalls, intrusion detection, deep packet inspection, analytics, network segmentation, device identity management and authentication, and other techniques.

- Policy based management to define/model appropriate device behavior, govern response to significant events, and other systems management features.

- Common operational picture of cybersecurity health for rapid network security fault assessment, analysis, and incident response.

- Integrates with additional systems such as physical security, physical access control, and user access control to make grid operations more resilient and reliable.

All DOE cybersecurity efforts align with the “Roadmap to Achieve Energy Delivery Systems Cybersecurity,” jointly developed with energy sector companies. The Roadmap outlines a strategic framework over the next decade to design, install, operate, and maintain a resilient energy delivery system capable of surviving a cyber incident while sustaining critical functions.

ViaSat is teaming with both Southern California Edison and another major utility to provide an easy transition from the lab to test and rollout into operational networks. 

 “We’ve been working with ViaSat very closely to develop our cybersecurity capabilities at SCE and this DOE grant validates our approach,” said Jeff Gooding, principal manager, Smart Grid System Engineering at Southern California Edison. “The advanced response capabilities will be a big step forward towards enabling us to improve our response time to incidents.”

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