Portland State to lead Pacific Northwest cyber threat initiative

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Researchers at Portland State University (PSU) has been awarded a $2 million National Security Agency (NSA) grant to address regional cybersecurity issues.

The two-year grant establishes and funds a consortium of public, private and academic partners that will address cybersecurity issues related to smart grid infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and Colorado.

The motivation for the initiative is that much of the focus in smart grid cybersecurity has been on upgrading and securing the top level of infrastructure from cyberattacks, i.e. a top down approach.

However, a bottom up effort also is needed to protect the vulnerabilities at the local and regional levels, suggests Birol Yeşilada, government faculty and director of PSU’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, who is principal investigator.

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Protecting municipal, regional and state governments, public utilities and other critical users such as healthcare providers, water, police and fire districts from cyber threats to the smart grid requires a holistic approach, says Yesilada.

“No single entity or institution can address this kind of challenge on its own. You need to work together from the bottom-up.”

Project partners include the University of Washington-Bothell among the academic institutions, federal agencies including the Bonneville Power Administration and the Departments of Energy and Defense, as well as private sector organizations including Portland General Electric and T-Mobile

Through workshops with consortium partners, the researchers will develop technology roadmaps, which will be followed with virtual tabletop exercises integrating real-world equipment to analyse and evaluate current technologies and uncover future smart grid solutions.

These exercises are intended to help stakeholders identify gaps within their organisation and develop plans to address them. Those plans might involve investing in new technologies, workforce education and development, or advocating at the state and federal level for cybersecurity laws and policies better aligned with the challenges presented by the smart grid.