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WSU to Participate in National Cybersecurity Project

Washington State University was chosen along with 11 other universities to take part in a cybersecurity project that will focus on research, development, education and outreach activities.

(TNS) -- A team of researchers at Washington State University will spend the next five years working to improve cybersecurity and resiliency of energy delivery systems, the university announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Energy will invest more than $34 million in two projects designed to improve the security of the nation's electric grid and oil and natural gas infrastructure from cyberthreats. The projects are part of the Obama Administration's effort to protect national energy framework.

WSU was one of 11 universities chosen to take part in the program, which will be led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The five year, $22.5 million project will focus on research, development, education and outreach activities, such as working on technology that will allow energy companies to continuously monitor their security arrangements instead of doing security audits every 12-18 months.

"The security landscape is always changing," said Carl Hauser, associate professor in electrical engineering and computer science at WSU. "You can't just sit back."

Hauser said new vulnerabilities and risks appear all the time and those who would infiltrate security infrastructures are always learning new things.

"We have to learn them faster and better," Hauser said.

Hauser will lead the university's efforts on this project.

Aside from Hauser, WSU researchers Anjan Bose, Chen-ching Liu, Anurag Srivastava and Adam Hahn will take part in the project.

A separate program, led by the University of Arkansas, will focus on the research and development of tools that will be tested at the university's National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission as well as Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp. and other partners before being transitioned into the commercialization and deployment industry, according to the DOE.

The university has partnered with Illinois twice before on power grid infrastructure projects supported by the DOE, Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation.

The current project is one of a number of efforts that followed the Aug. 14, 2003, blackout in the Northeast that affected much of New England as well as parts of the Midwest.

The incident, which left 50 million people without power in New York, Cleveland and Detroit in the U.S. and Toronto and Ottawa in Canada, was caused by overgrown trees coming into contact with power lines at an Ohio energy facility. That contact led to a chain reaction of outages resulting in the shut down of 21 power plants within three minutes.

Although the blackout was not the result of a cyber security breach, researchers wanted to be prepared for the possibility.

"Cybersecurity is one of the most serious challenges facing grid modernization, which is why maintaining a robust, ever-growing pipeline of cutting-edge technologies is essential to helping the energy sector continue adapting to the evolving landscape," Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, said in a press release. "To meet this challenge, we must continue investing in innovative, next-generation technologies that can be transitioned to the energy sector to reduce the risk of a power disruption resulting from a cyber incident."

Other universities and institutions involved in the project include Argonne National Laboratory, Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Rutgers University, Tennessee State University and the University of Houston.

©2015 the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (Moscow, Idaho) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.