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TORCH initiative advances hydropower cybersecurity

  • TORCH initiative advances hydropower cybersecurity
  • TORCH will engage industry and academia to develop the next generation of cybersecurity experts specializing in hydropower technology and governance.
  • The program's unique approach aims to bridge the gap between cybersecurity and engineering.

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The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national lab, is advancing research and practices in hydropower cybersecurity and digitalisation.

To improve the operational efficiency of hydropower facilities, digitalisation is a must; however, as connectivity and automation increase, so do cybersecurity risks. PNNL researchers work on technologies to prevent intrusion to hydropower infrastructure and have developed resources for response and recovery after a cybersecurity incident in hydropower facilities.

Last year, the PNNL and the DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office joined forces to establish TORCH (Training, Outreach, and Recruitment for Cybersecurity in Hydropower), an initiative to engage industry and academia through a training curriculum dedicated to developing the next generation of cybersecurity experts specializing in hydropower technology and governance.

TORCH imparts both hydropower and cybersecurity expertise, thus enabling participants to protect facilities and ensure uninterrupted operations. The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) will be the first institution to implement TORCH, according to a UTEP statement.

Salamah Salamah, Ph.D., Chair of Computer Science at UTEP, expressed enthusiasm about the collaboration with PNNL, emphasizing the program's integration of real-world challenges into academic and research spheres. “The TORCH program exposes our students to state-of-the-art technologies and advances in an area of significant importance to the nation, namely the security of hydropower systems”, he said.

Penny McKenzie, PNNL cybersecurity engineer, underscored the program's unique approach to bridge the gap between cybersecurity and engineering: “It can be very difficult to find students that are interested in cybersecurity and also have an engineering background. Typically, there are either cyber students or engineering students”, she said.

Mitigating risks to hydropower systems demands proactive measures and specialized expertise. TORCH's proactive stance extends beyond academia, with plans to train existing personnel in hydro facilities and inspire K-12 students to pursue cybersecurity careers in hydropower. As the program unfolds, it promises to strengthen the nation's critical infrastructure against evolving cyber threats while nurturing a skilled workforce poised to shape the future of hydropower cybersecurity.

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