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Despite the potential for a cyber attack against this infrastructure to wreak havoc with government, businesses and citizens, there is no legal requirement that utilities harden their computer networks against malicious hackers or malware; defensive measures are voluntary.
The importance of addressing network security issues wasn’t lost on DOE officials. Hackers broke into an Energy Department database in July, making off with personnel data on 53,000 current and former employees and contractors. The DOE cyber incident occurred as a result of a failure to patch a ColdFusion system against known vulnerabilities.
The contracts are part of broader efforts by the Obama administration to focus greater attention on defending the nation's infrastructure networks against cybersecurity threats, a DOE spokesman told InformationWeek. President Obama issued Executive Order 13636 in February that took steps to promote and develop incentives to industry to adopt stronger cybersecurity measures.
DOE originally planned to allocate approximately $20 million to these projects, but elected to increase the funding, a department spokesman said, based on the administration's commitment to cybersecurity and the strength of the 11 proposals.
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The contract awardees are:
-- Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories of Pullman, Wash., received three contracts, worth a combined $9.6 million, to develop software that will allow utilities to centrally manage their local area networks and reroute traffic in response to cyber intrusions; to build a radio platform for more secure wireless communications used with remote infrastructure such as substations; and to create an integrated cyber and physical access control system for delivery facilities.
-- Foxguard Solutions of Christiansburg, Va., received a $3.3 million contract to simplify keeping up with software and firmware updates and patches.
-- The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association received a $3.6 million contract to create a network that allows utilities and small electric co-ops, which have more limited in-house resources, to centrally manage their networks with greater security.
-- Georgia Tech Applied Research received a $3.3 million contract to develop technology that can evaluate commands given to energy delivery system controls and look at their effect on power grid operations and trigger cybersecurity responses, if needed, to prevent disruptions.
-- Viasat, in Carlsbad, Calif., received a $3.3 million contract to design an architecture for utilities to be aware of their energy delivery systems' cybersecurity and allow them to respond automatically to intrusions.
-- ABB of Cary, N.C., received a $2.8 million contract to create a system that allows substation devices to coordinate and validate the integrity of communications and evaluate any potential impact of commands on grid operations.
-- The Grid Protection Alliance in Chattanooga, Tenn., received a $2.2 million contract to develop an architecture for more secure substation communications for data produced by energy delivery devices.
-- The Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif., received a $1.5 million contract to design a framework for utilities to centrally manage remote configuration of their energy delivery system devices more securely, in a vendor-neutral way.
-- TT Government Solutions, based in Red Bank, N.J., received a $956,560 contract to create technology to analyze and visualize smartmeter wireless communications in order to quickly identify any unusual behaviors that could be a sign of cyber attack.
The DOE spokesman said that while the contracts have been awarded, negotiations are underway regarding a time frame for deliverables.
The importance of improving cyber protection was outlined in a report released in May by Rep. Henry Waxman and then-Rep. Edward Markey that outlined the scope of cyber attacks against utilities.
For example, "More than a dozen utilities reported 'daily,' 'constant' or 'frequent' attempted cyber attacks ranging from phishing to malware infection to unfriendly probes," the report stated. "One utility reported that it was the target of approximately 10,000 attempted cyber attacks each month."
The congressional report noted that most of the utilities that responded to the congressional survey said that, while they have complied with any mandatory requirements established by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (an industry organization that establishes reliability standards), few had implemented any of the voluntary measures that NERC has recommended.