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NREL’s Cyber ​​Range Offers the Big Picture of Federal Energy Asset Security | News

To Protect America’s Energy Future, NREL Takes Cybersecurity Planning Off the Page and in Living Color


NREL’s cyber suite will be used to map and visualize federal campus energy assets to identify cybersecurity threats and actions.

Federal Campuses Face a Complex Energy Security Landscape

Energy systems are becoming decentralized as increasing amounts of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) are introduced into the mass power system. A single installation can include solar panels, wind turbines, storage batteries and electric vehicle chargers, all of which constantly exchange information with each other and with the power grid.

While this transformation offers various benefits in terms of energy savings and resilience, it also presents greater opportunities for cyber threats.

Compared to traditional centralized generation, DER systems result in complex, data-driven communication networks, requiring careful coordination of these systems and constant vigilance to ensure the security of our network assets. Federal campuses in particular can grapple with higher stakes on both sides of the equation, serving as demonstration sites for innovative energy systems while also needing to secure energy data that, if compromised, could involve national security issues.

NREL has created a framework to assess and address cybersecurity risks

To help federal energy managers assess, monitor, and manage cybersecurity, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Distributed Energy Resources Cybersecurity Framework (DER-CF) offers a comprehensive online assessment tool focused on e-governance or policy, technical management, and physical security. The DER-CF tool guides users step-by-step through an assessment that helps them identify and address gaps in their cybersecurity posture. Currently, the tool provides users with a cybersecurity score and a personalized action plan to improve their organization’s security controls and practices.

In its continued quest to secure valuable federal energy assets, NREL is preparing an enhancement to the DER-CF that will take cybersecurity planning from page to living color.

Picture What’s Next: Interactive Visualization of Cyber ​​Risk Scenarios Using NREL’s Cyber ​​Range

DER-CF currently presents users with a series of relevant cybersecurity questions, which are used to generate a site-specific report and recommendations. In the next iteration of the platform, NREL and the US Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program are elevating DER-CF to a new aircraft using NREL’s cyber range.

The cyberrange generates emulated multi-layered grid environments that allow researchers to visualize and assess the interdependencies of power systems and network communication flows, and to safely explore vulnerabilities and mitigation effectiveness . This unique capability helps researchers better understand how to improve the security, resiliency, and start-up recovery of today’s critical energy infrastructure.

Integration with the cyber range will be transformative, allowing interactive visualization of current and future cybersecurity scenarios for each site.

Photo of an NREL cybersecurity researcher working on a computer while two other researchers review data on a large screen in the background.
NREL researchers Josh Vannatta, Josh Rivera and Shane McFly use the cyber range to visualize a cyberattack in real time. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Visualize data to improve cybersecurity of distributed federal energy resources

Visualizing DER-CF data with the Cyber ​​Range will allow Federal decision makers to emulate a site-wide energy system for a more complete picture of DER-related cybersecurity issues and strategies. The cyber range can also allow users to integrate other site data with compliance and governance information collected using the DER-CF tool.

Tami Reynolds, NREL project manager and DER-CF principal investigator, sees the value of cybergaming for decision-making. “A lot of people are visual,” Reynolds said. “If we can actually show them the potential issues, it will be easier for them to understand and therefore invest time and resources.”

NREL’s Jordan Peterson is an engineer on the team that integrates the cyber range with DER-CF. He sees significant benefits in integrating the visualization capabilities of the cyber range with DER-CF. “Users will get instant feedback. For example, you can choose to enable secure communication and immediately see how that changes compliance,” Peterson said.

Shane McFly of NREL, the technical lead for the integration project, adds that the DER-CF in combination with cyber range capabilities can be used for training and decision support for management personnel. For example, a security analyst might present a compelling visual argument to an executive that a new password policy should be implemented, despite a significant investment of money and staff training time. Stating in a report that a system is non-compliant because it does not have a strong password policy is one thing, but showing decision makers how a bad actor could gain access to the system and execute a distributed attack, making tens of thousands of login attempts in a short period of time is another.

According to Peterson, “The cyber range will help provide data and show the potential results of an attack and how implementing the new policy would prevent it. Demonstration on a live system really helps.

McFly believes this project will also provide unprecedented visibility into cybersecurity compliance. “Currently, we can provide compliance status information, but it’s more like a Q&A with a human,” McFly said. “This project goes one step further: we’re creating a system view of compliance status and we can use that to show people what we’re suggesting they do. It will show users how these decisions and policies change the state of the system. »

McFly said development is accelerating. “By the end of 2022,” he said, “we hope to deliver a static image of the system, which uses color to provide an easily recognizable overview of compliance status. The next step will be to use our full cyber lineup visualization app; it will be three-dimensional, able to dive into specific system elements, display dashboards to view system logs, and run a simulation of the entire system. ”

Learn more about the Distributed Energy Resources Cybersecurity Framework and NREL’s Cyber ​​Range.


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