US Energy Department Eyes Blockchain to Prevent Power Plant Cyberattacks

Yogita Khatri
Apr 11, 2019 at 08:00 UTC
Updated Apr 11, 2019 at 08:01 UTC
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The U.S. Department of Energy is exploring blockchain technology as a line of defense against cyberattacks on power plants.

The department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) unit announced Wednesday that phase two of an electric grid security project has been launched in partnership with decentralized cybersecurity startup Taekion, formerly Grid7.

The laboratory provided a grant of $1 million to Taekion last year, and now as part of the second phase of the project, the startup will research on how blockchain technology can be used to secure a power plant, by keeping all sensor, actuator and device transactions on a distributed ledger.

“Accurate information on the status of power plant operations is critical for electric grid security,” NETL said, adding that, when the storage of key information is decentralized, “there is no single point of failure.”

In an example of how a cyberattack could take place on a power plant, the lab said a system could be compromised so that it appears operational when it has actually been shut down by hackers, potentially “leaving millions without power.” Such an attack took place at a power plant in Ukraine in 2016, the laboratory said, which caused widespread power outages during the winter months.

NETL said:

“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.”

Taekion plans to work on other applications, too, that would help secure energy transactions to protect process data at power generation facilities, increase grid reliability and integrate a more decentralized energy infrastructure.

The project is part of the energy department’s Office of Fossil Energy Sensors and Controls program and is funded through the department’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

This is not the first time that the department has looked to explore blockchain for technological improvements. Last year, it partnered with BlockCypher to develop solutions allowing energy transactions to be settled across multiple blockchains.

The department also recently announced federal funding of up to $4.8 million for universities working on R&D projects, including those related to blockchain.

Power plant image via Shutterstock