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NEWS | June 9, 2022

Army Reserve Taps Hacker Community to Enhance Microgrid Cybersecurity

By Ashley Bradford, Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

As the Army’s demonstration installation for energy and water resilience, California’s Fort Hunter Liggett is focused on enhancing the cybersecurity of the post’s innovative microgrid system. Partnering with the Office of the Secretary of Defense's (OSD) Directorate of Digital Services (DDS) in the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office (CDAO) and Lawrence Berkely National Lab, the Army Reserve-funded installation is participating in national conferences to leverage the expertise of “white hat” ethical hackers. These events over the next six months will enable Fort Hunter Liggett to lead the way by developing cybersecurity protocols for microgrids located on Department of Defense facilities.

“In 2021, the Army Reserve was at the forefront of developing microgrids,” explained Col. Lisa Lamb, Fort Hunter Liggett Garrison Commander. “This year we’re at the forefront of addressing the cybersecurity of those systems. We have seen firsthand that America’s electric grid is under significant threat, so ensuring the strength of our microgrid systems are critical to protecting mission readiness. We plan to achieve this through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and DDS for a collaborative effort that will result in the development of cybersecurity protocols for microgrids implemented on Army and Department of Defense Facilities.”

On May 4, the Fort Hunter Liggett, DDS, and Lawrence Berkely National Lab collaborative participated in the Hack The Capitol 5.0 cybersecurity conference in Washington D.C. Representatives from the respective organizations briefed on a panel titled, “Limits to Power: Security Tradeoffs in the Pursuit of a More Energy Resilient Nation.” Additionally, DDS set up a hands-on demo lab on hacking a microgrid. After providing participants with the basics, they were encouraged to attempt a take over and shutdown the mock microgrid by hacking its weather data system and sensor input network.

“Cybersecurity for microgrids must become a best practice,” shared contractor Jarrod Ross, Fort Hunter Liggett Resource Efficiency Manager. “Our work with our strategic partners, along with the help of the hacker community, will help us identify problems, implement better technology, and ultimately strengthen national defense.”

The Hack The Capitol demo lab served as a first step to vet ideas and generate interest in testing microgrid cybersecurity in the ethical hacker community. The MOU cybersecurity collaborative’s next step is to participate in DEF CON 30, one of the oldest hacking conventions set to take place August 11-14 in Las Vegas, Nevada. At this event, the group plans to display mockups of microgrids that enable participants to adjust vulnerabilities and identify points of failure. Some of the stations will utilize a real time virtual program from Lawrence Berkely National Lab – demonstrating the strength of their cybersecurity system.

After the Hack The Capitol and DEF CON events, the cybersecurity collaborative’s ultimate goal is to host a Fort Hunter Liggett “Hack the Microgrid” event in 2023 at the commissioning of the installation’s microgrid. "A crowdsourced assessment means we are engaging America's most talented hackers to identify exploitable vulnerabilities in our control system architecture in order to look beyond the traditional Risk Management Framework," shared Ross. "The findings will then inform the development of microgrid cybersecurity standards that can be leveraged across the Army Reserve, the Army, and other federal facilities."

Fort Hunter Liggett’s microgrid construction broke ground in May 2021 adding an additional 3.75 megawatts of photovoltaic power production, a Battery Energy Storage System, and controls to enable the installation to achieve Net Zero Energy, which means it produces as much energy as it uses. It’s sub-installation, Parks Reserve Forces Training Area, broke ground a few months later in August with a first of its kind modular microgrid system comprised of 10 individual nodes that can power critical facilities for at least 14 days during times of power disruption.

Energy resilience, or the uninterrupted access to electricity, is critical in the face of challenging weather effects from climate change in California. Through microgrids and other sustainability initiatives, the Army Reserve is actively addressing the effects of climate change through adaptations to harden infrastructure. Thanks to renewable energy technologies, Fort Hunter Liggett produced 23.2 percent of its electricity in 2021. The installation also reduced its water use intensity by 52.8 percent since 2013 and is currently constructing a secondary waste water treatment facility.

“We know the rapid advance of technology enables our near peer competitors to grow more savvy by the day,” added Lamb. “Enhancing the way we protect critical systems that enable us to remain operational and train our Soldiers is a must. Whether its responding to emergency disasters stateside or deploying overseas, access to reliable and secure energy ensures our Soldiers have the resources needed for success.”