The U.S. Department of Energy Collaborates with Blockchain Firm to Secure the Electric Grid

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Laboratory (NETL) has announced Phase II of its project to safeguard the electric grid from cyber attacks. The project is blockchain-based with $1 million in research funding and is being conducted in collaboration with a Colorado-based company called Taekion.

The press release states:

“Through this $1 million research effort, Taekion is exploring how blockchain technology can be used in a similar fashion to secure a power plant, where a distributed ledger is kept of all sensor, actuator and device transactions. Because the storage of this information is decentralized, there is no single point of failure. Other applications under development in this project will enable secure energy transactions to protect process data at power generation facilities as well as increase grid reliability and integrate a more decentralized energy infrastructure.”

The national power grid is becoming increasingly dependent on computers which is great in terms of improving efficiency and identifying problems; however, it does make the grid vulnerable to cyber attacks. There is a constant ongoing battle between cybersecurity experts and cybercriminals where both are trying to outsmart the other.

If a cyber attack on the grid was to be successful, it’s not just no TV and eating dinner in darkness that waits for us. A sophisticated attack could also disrupt major infrastructure needed to maintain a functioning society, such as water treatment works going down, gas stations won’t be able to pump gas, and communications will be severely limited.

While the US is yet to see a large scale power grid attack, attacks in other countries show just how disruptive it can be. In 2015 and 2016 Ukraine was hit with two large scale cyber attacks by Russian actors that caused widespread blackouts.

FireEye Analyst Alex Orleans says:

“There’s still a concentrated Russian cyber espionage campaign targeting the bulk of the US electrical grid. The grid is still getting hit.”

Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods and as such, we need to implement new and equally sophisticated methods in protecting the grid. It isn’t clear exactly how the DOE are planning to use blockchain technology to achieve these goals, but with the current buzz around blockchain technology, it isn’t a surprise that governments are exploring new ways to utilize it. The press release states:

“The applications being developed in the NETL-managed project have the potential to thwart such attacks by preventing hackers from altering the plant’s operational information.”

Let’s hope that such blockchain ventures would indeed stop cyber attacks if and when they would arise.