New cybersecurity solution for rural electric co-ops in the USA

The programme developed by electric co-ops in collaboration with the Department of Energy, constantly monitors performance of critical infrastructure

The USA’s National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (Nreca) has announced the launch of an operations technology (OT) and cybersecurity monitoring solution.

The Essence service, already in use at 149 Nreca co-ops, continuously monitors the operation of electric grids and other operational networks to give real-time situational awareness to owners and operators of critical infrastructure.

“As threats and threat actors evolve, electric co-operatives consistently work to improve their cyber defences,” said Nreca CEO Jim Matheson. “That’s especially true as the nation’s electric grid becomes increasingly connected and digitised. Essence is field tested and proven to help electric cooperatives stay ahead of the curve.”

Essence used a proprietary artificial intelligence system that oversees a cyber-physical rules engine, which instantly alerts operators to both physical and cyber anomalies. This feature allows Essence users to quickly identify and respond to issues in real time while enhancing the physical security of electric system assets such as transformers.

“Identifying, troubleshooting and responding to increasingly sophisticated cyber and physical attacks is a constant area of focus for the owners of critical infrastructure,” said Wayne McGurk, Nreca’s chief information officer and Essence programme lead. “Essence is uniquely positioned to empower America’s electric co-ops and other critical infrastructure owners across many sectors that can benefit from monitoring their OT and IT assets in real time.”

Essence was developed by electric co-ops in collaboration with the Department of Energy (DOE) and electric co-ops.

“The development and deployment of Essence at Wake Electric has given us advanced visibility and operational awareness while enhancing our system protection,” said Don Bowman, vice president of operations and engineering at Wake Electric Cooperative, which provides electric service to 48,000 consumers in seven North Carolina counties. “This new visibility into what’s happening on our system enables us to stay ahead of evolving threats.”

In addition to Nreca members, Essence is available to other types of utilities, including municipal and investor-owned electric utilities and natural gas and water providers.