NRECA Bringing Co-op Perspective to Biden’s 100-Day Cybersecurity Initiative

NRECA is working to ensure co-ops can benefit from joining the White House’s voluntary 100-day cybersecurity initiative for critical infrastructure. (Photo By: Kyle Krajnyak/Getty Images)

NRECA is working with an industry group and the Biden administration on a voluntary 100-day initiative to enhance national cyberthreat detection, mitigation and forensic capabilities.

Led by the White House National Security Council with support from the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security, the initiative’s first focus is on the industrial controls and operational technology systems of electric utilities with more than 50,000 customers.

“Federal agencies cite the need for enhanced cybersecurity technology options, driven by the growing risk to control systems and concern about the potential for adversaries to compromise systems essential to our daily lives,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson.

“Through NRECA’s role in the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, we are working closely with the federal government as it implements this initiative, including providing input on how the government can provide assistance to electric cooperatives to meet the objectives of enhancing cybersecurity in the electric sector.”

The ESCC is a CEO-led organization that serves as the principal liaison between electric utilities and the federal government to prepare for, and respond to, national-level disasters or threats to critical infrastructure.

NRECA wants to ensure co-ops have a way to voluntarily engage in the 100-day initiative and is advocating for federal financial incentives to help utilities strengthen their cyber defenses through advanced sensors and software.

One technology that is being considered with this initiative is Essence, which was developed by NRECA with exactly these issues in mind. This sophisticated anomaly-detection tool can identify and warn of possible network breaches in real time. NRECA received $6 million from DOE last fall to further develop this groundbreaking cybersecurity tool and was awarded $3.9 million this week from the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to expand the program. A large-scale co-op pilot is underway.

“With cost-effective technologies like Essence, co-ops can gain a level of monitoring and situational awareness that can improve the sector’s common operating picture,” said Bridgette Bourge, NRECA legislative director.

“If this initiative includes financial assistance for not-for-profit electric entities, we could greatly improve the industry and government’s ability to quickly identify trends or concerning activity around our critical infrastructure and respond,” Bourge said.

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.