US Electric Cooperative Association Launches Commercial OT Security Solution
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) this week announced the commercial launch of its operational technology (OT) cybersecurity solution.
NRECA is a national trade association that represents roughly 900 local electric cooperatives in the United States. Its cybersecurity solution, named Essence, has been in development since 2014 with funding from the US Department of Energy.
NRECA announced in 2020 that it had received $6 million from the Energy Department to develop Essence 2.0. In January 2023, it unveiled Essence 3.0 and announced that Essence would be going from an R&D project funded by the Energy Department to a commercial solution.
The organization officially announced the commercial launch of Essence on February 27. The solution has already been used by dozens of electric cooperatives, but it can be deployed at other types of utilities as well, including gas and water providers.
Essence is designed to continuously monitor the operation of electric grids and other critical infrastructure in an effort to detect threats. The solution is powered by a proprietary AI system and a cyber-physical rules engine that can quickly alert operators in case cyber or physical anomalies are identified.
Essence is described by NRECA as a ‘robust early warning system’ for the critical infrastructure community, combining OT and IT deep packet inspection to detect threats.
The solution can dynamically discover SCADA and other OT network assets and can immediately detect new devices that join the network. It also passively observes traffic, allowing operators to set custom alarms for critical loads and IT/OT components.
Essence also includes incident response components that enable users to control incident information sharing and flow.
“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 CIO and Essence program 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.”
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