The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has named six university research programs to pursue cybersecurity technology research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to help energy delivery systems across the country withstand future cyberattacks.

DOE's Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) awarded $12 million for the university-led projects to enhance the security of next-generation energy systems by improving anomaly detection software, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and physics-based analytics. These systems will include features that detect cyber intrusions faster, and then automatically block access to control operations.

“Academic research partnerships such as these will enhance the way the Nation approaches energy sector security, keeping us at the forefront of global innovation,” CESER Director Puesh Kumar said.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) will create a two-part system called Cyber REsilience of SubsTations (CREST)—a program designed to control breaches while sustaining a platform’s secure communications and critical functions. Awarded $1.9 million, the university is partnering with the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Southern Company Services, and GW Grid Solutions LLC to develop the project.

“As the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, no issue keeps me up at night more than our nation’s cyber vulnerabilities—especially those that may exist within the critical infrastructure sectors that power our nation,” said U.S. Senator Mark Warner (VA). “I’m thrilled to see these federal dollars go towards supporting Virginia Tech in developing cutting-edge tools to strengthen the cyber defenses of our electric power systems.”

The other five universities to receive funding include Florida International University, Iowa State University, New York University, Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Along with Virginia Tech, their proposed projects are developing cyber-physical system (CPS) technologies and tools to “detect and mitigate” cyber threats.

The announcement arrives amid heightened cyberattacks over the Russia-Ukraine war. According to Reuters, Italian police foiled "several" cyberattacks targeting "network infrastructure" by the pro-Russia hacker groups Killnet and Legion over the past weekend.

Killnet—after launching cyberattacks on multiple Romanian government websites for the country’s support of Ukraine—also threatened to shut down British hospital ventilators earlier this month after an alleged member was arrested for their involvement in the Romanian government attacks, as reported by the Sun.

The activity follows last month’s joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Five Eyes (FVEY) nations, which warned about an increased risk of attacks by Russian-backed cybercrime groups targeting critical infrastructure organizations around the world.

“Investing in cutting-edge cyber security technology keeps us at the forefront of global innovation and protects America’s power grid in the face of increasing cyber threats from abroad,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “This funding will bolster our commitment to a secure and resilient clean energy future by fortifying American electricity systems and building a stronger grid.”