Christiansburg cyber security company develops protection for nation's power grid

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A cyber security company is in the final phase of protecting power companies from being hacked and possibly costing us power for any amount of time.

Foxguard Solutions said hacking a power company is like when computers or smart devices need updating. Power companies need to do that too.

But before. they could have been susceptible to cyber hacking. And with a national grid like we have in the U.S., a single attack could affect the whole country.

Just two years ago, a cyber attack happened in Ukraine that made 230,000 people lose power.

And in 2003, the U.S. experienced something similar.

Foxguard Solutions Product Manager Michele Wright said, "There was a blackout that was caused by a transformer going out in the Northeast and the entire east coast went out of power."

For the last four years, this Christiansburg company has used $4.3 million from the U.S Department of Energy's Cyber Security for Energy Delivery Systems to develop protection for all the pieces that make up the power grid.

Wright explained, "Our program is able to provide a security program around all of that equipment and then able to subsequently help keep the power on, which then is good for all of us."

Christiansburg Mayor Mike Barber was on a tour of the company Wednesday and said he's blown away by what the company could do and what it could mean for the future.

He said, "If the power goes you don't pump water, you don't really do anything. So what they can offer to us, and any municipality around, it's emergency management at it's best."

Nick Rush from the Virginia House of Delegates is also impressed and said this kind of nationally impactful work is exactly Virginia is hoping to see.

The 7th District Delegate said, "Virginia has a deficit of cyber security and we're working on that. We've done that with education and we're focusing resources in our higher education system to train the next generation of workers for cyber security."

Next up for the company is marketing and selling their product to energy companies around the nation.

Right now, no power distributors in our region use the technology. But Foxguard Solutions said they're working hard to change that.

From Foxguard Solutions:

FoxGuard Solutions, Inc. and partner TDi Technologies have completed a multi-year project to create a safer national power grid by simplifying the process of patching and updating energy delivery control system devices. The solution is the result of a $4.3 million Cooperative Agreement awarded in 2013 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Cybersecurity for Energy Delivery Systems (CEDS) division.

“This is exactly why FoxGuard Solutions exists and this is where our team excels,” FoxGuard President & CEO, Marty Muscatello, said. “The solution developed comprises several elements that can each stand alone to improve security posture and, when integrated, provide a comprehensive solution to meet energy sector patch and update needs.”

Believing the nation’s security, economic prosperity, and the well-being of its citizens depends on reliable energy infrastructure, the DOE solicited FoxGuard Solution’s expertise to develop the patch and update management project for energy delivery systems. The energy sector places an emphasis on the availability and reliability of energy delivery operations. While best practice avoids the connection of energy delivery system devices to external networks, their increasing interconnectivity poses greater risk to cyber vulnerabilities, making proper and timely patches and updates critically important to maintaining system cybersecurity.

For many utilities, the process of applying patches to energy delivery systems creates a challenge to availability and reliability, as these updates may require an outage. FoxGuard Solutions was tasked with researching, developing, and demonstrating technology and techniques to identify and verify the integrity of updates and patches for energy delivery systems software, hardware and firmware, while also facilitating the deployment of those updates.

Key Elements Include:
Patch & Update Data Aggregator & Web Portal
Patch & Update Authentication
Validation Techniques
Query Engine

The Patch and Update Management Program simplifies the process of understanding what patches are available for energy delivery industrial control system devices for both end users and equipment vendors. The program also allows utilities to more easily adhere to NERC CIP v6 requirements involving patching, ultimately leading to a safer grid.