Students take part in a simulated cyber attack on a solar installation – pv magazine USA

The CyberForce 2022 competition promotes careers in cybersecurity that protect the country’s energy systems.

As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) CyberForce competition, college and university students from across the United States joined virtually and in person to attempt to thwart a simulated cyberattack on the solar facility of a manufacturer of electric vehicles.

The CyberForce competition, run by the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, part of the DOE’s CyberForce program, focuses on developing the next generation of cyber defenders, which the DOE says are in short supply. The DOE estimates that unfilled cybersecurity careers will reach more than 1.8 million by 2022.

“Cybersecurity is critical in the energy sector as our systems become increasingly interconnected and complex,” said Puesh Kumar, Director of the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER ) from the DOE. “Preparing the cyber professionals of tomorrow is as important as improving the technology we use to protect our infrastructure. The CyberForce competition is an unprecedented opportunity for students to gain real-world experience by testing their cybersecurity skills to protect energy infrastructure.

Cyber ​​threats have become more common in recent years. For example, in February, thousands of Internet users in Europe lost service when a satellite operator suffered a “cyber event”. The same attack also knocked nearly 6,000 wind turbines offline in Germany and central Europe, with a combined output of 11 GW. In the same month, a hacker broke into a water treatment plant in the United States and a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline in May led to the company temporarily shutting down the pipeline and saw people panicking buy gas in short supply in the southeast.

According to a recent DOE report, the potential damage to solar rooftops, batteries, and other distributed energy resources is also real and growing. DERs now total 90 GW of capacity in the United States and are expected to reach 380 GW by 2025, according to the report.

Past cyberattacks on renewable energy generation indicate the risk of attacks on DERs, said Meg Egan, control systems cybersecurity analyst at Idaho National Laboratory, during a recent DOE cybersecurity webinar. Three nations are capable of cyberattacks, as are criminal groups, she said, noting 10 cyberattacks against large-scale renewable energy generators or renewable energy companies since 2019 worldwide.

This year’s competition, held both virtually and in-person in Illinois last week, capitalized on the expertise of current National Laboratory staff who had previously held four successful cyber defense competitions. The competitions involve interactive, scenario-based events, where participants engage in cybersecurity activities, including methods, practices, strategy, policy, and ethics.

In this year’s scenario, the students were tasked with helping the electric vehicle manufacturer secure the systems for its recently acquired solar facility. When the facility appears compromised, students must assess its vulnerabilities and develop a series of innovations to protect and harden it against existing and future attacks.

The competition uses realistic components, such as cyberphysical infrastructure, realistic anomalies and constraints, and real users of the systems that engage students in compelling emergency scenarios. Entrants are scored on their “out of the box” and innovative ideas and defenses, which stem from the real-world constraints provided in the scenario. One such constraint, for example, is “no budget,” in which participants develop a functional defense using zero dollars and ensuring that the intended purpose of the system is not obsolete.

The competition is managed by the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER), with Argonne as the lead national laboratory providing leadership, planning, and subject matter expertise. In addition, national laboratories at DOE Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories partner with Argonne to provide technical support.

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