U.S. DOE Office Would Boost Anti-Cyber Attack Strategies

Proposed in the Trump Administration’s budget, the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response would research and develop strategies to protect the U.S. power grid.

Securing the nation’s electric power grid would be the mission of a proposed new office at the U.S. Department of Energy. (Photo: Southern California Edison)
Securing the nation’s electric power grid would be the mission of a proposed new office at the U.S. Department of Energy. (Photo: Southern California Edison)

A little-noticed proposal in the Trump Administration’s budget has far-reaching implications for the mission to defend the nation’s electric grid against the threat of cyber attack. The budget requests $96 million to launch the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER).

Announced in February by the U.S. Department of Energy, the proposed agency would conduct research and development at national labora’tories aimed at developing the next generation of cybersecurity control systems, components, and devices. One priority would be enhancing the capacity to share time-critical data with industry to prevent, detect and recover from cyber events.

Grid security advocates offered positive initial revews. “It’s a positive first step for the DOE and the industry to begin tackling the enormous task of protecting our electric infrastructure from increasingly complex cyber and physical threats,” commented Jim Cunningham, executive director of Protect Our Power, in a prepared statement.

Rising worries

The proposal comes at a time of rising concerns about the vulnerability of the nation’s power system. Nearly 61 percent of Americans believe the electric grid is vulnerable to a physical or cyber attack, according to a 2017 survey by Protect Our Power, a nonprofit that promotes the safety of the grid from potential hazards.

Protect our Power noted that a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine warns that a major outage caused by a physical or cyber attack poses “a serious and growing risk.” And the organization cites estimates by Lloyd’s of London that a cyber attack on the nation’s power grid could cause $1 trillion in economic impact.

With that in mind, Cunningham emphasized that the proposed Energy Department agency is only a beginning. “The real work starts now,” said Cunningham. “Securing our grid will be complex and expensive. This initiative must now ensure we improve current security standards and highlight the best practices the industry currently uses successfully.”

“In light of the magnitude and scope of a potential attack, the creation of the energy cybersecurity office helps illuminate the long path for developing and implementing a comprehensive resiliency plan,” said Suedeen Kelly, Protect Our Power’s regulatory counsel and former commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.