UA Little Rock Expands Efforts to Strengthen Cybersecurity in Energy Sector

UA Little Rock Expands Efforts to Strengthen Cybersecurity in Energy Sector
Phillip Huff, assistant professor of cybersecurity at UA Little Rock, discusses an expansion of the university's Emerging Threat Information Sharing and Analysis Center (UA Little Rock)

In a bid to strengthen cybersecurity in the energy sector, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Tuesday announced an expansion of its Emerging Threat Information Sharing and Analysis Center.

The project is supported by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Cyber Security, Energy Security, and Emergency Response. It will bring together electric utilities and other energy partners to advance practices in cybersecurity threat sharing throughout the mid-South, the university said in a news release.

“The energy sector, and electric utilities, in particular, are on the front lines when it comes to nation-state cybersecurity attacks,” Philip Huff, assistant professor of cybersecurity at UA Little Rock and principal investigator on the grant, said in the release. “They are often among the first targeted because they provide critical services to society and are relied on by all other critical infrastructure sectors. It is especially important that we have cybersecurity protections for these services in place.”

The project's goals focus on increasing workforce development, creating education and training for securing energy sector control systems, and advancing cybersecurity threat intelligence sharing practices.

Steps to reach those goals include:

  • Developing and deploying energy control system simulations for community members to train and test defensive measures
  • Automation of threat analysis tasks through artificial intelligence, which will provide information to develop technology that will allow for broader cybersecurity threat sharing
  • An expansion of UA Little Rock's Cyber Arena, a cloud-based cybersecurity education and training platform that provides an online learning environment

The center brings together a consortium of universities, cybersecurity experts, electric utilities and energy sector partners through the Cybersecurity Consortium for Innovation (CCI), led by the nonprofit Forge Institute of Little Rock.

On behalf of the consortium, UA Little Rock and the Forge Institute have signed an agreement with Idaho National Laboratory, a leading center for power grid cybersecurity and nuclear energy research. The agreement boost collaboration for cybersecurity threat sharing and analysis, and provide industrial cybersecurity labs for training and exercises.

This is the first time such an agreement has been signed between a state consortium and a national laboratory, according to the release.

“This federal funding and collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, and other partners, enables thoughtful engagement, training, and capability development to support the needs of energy sector organizations, including municipally owned utilities,” Lee Watson, Forge Institute chair and CEO, said in the release. “Our goal is to refine and improve a next-generation information sharing and analysis collaboration that will help critical infrastructure entities share information through a trusted community with a clear goal of being one step ahead of our adversaries providing enhanced situational awareness.”

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