UConn Leading Federally Backed Regional Initiative to Defend Electric Grid from Cyberattack

CyberCARED will take UConn’s cybersecurity research and development into a new domain

Circuitry superimposed over electrical pylons.

(Adobe Stock)

Since the start of 2024, federal officials have been sounding alarms over the critical threat of cyberattacks to the country’s energy infrastructure.

Researchers at UConn are answering the call for the development of innovative technologies and defense systems, as well as education and training programs for the energy-sector workforce, through a new regional collaborative that brings together universities and industry partners to tackle the cybersecurity infrastructure needs of the northeast corridor.

The new Northeast University Cybersecurity Center for Advanced and Resilient Energy Delivery, or CyberCARED, will formally launch in early May following a commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) of $2.5 million over the next two years to support the project.

The project is one of six nationwide that were selected by the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) to address gaps in research surrounding energy security.

CyberCARED logo.

“This investment in university-based cybersecurity centers will enable us to simultaneously grow the U.S. cyber workforce and build the expertise we need to take on the evolving cyber threats to our nation’s energy systems,” says CESER Director Puesh M. Kumar. “The U.S. competitive advantage has always depended on cutting-edge research and a high-skilled workforce. Through these projects, we are advancing our economic and national security.”

A team of industry partners have committed an additional $1.1 million – for total project funding of $3.6 million – to launch the initiative out of UConn’s Eversource Energy Center, based at UConn Storrs.

“The main goal for this center is to build and unify the regional collaborations across academic institutions and power industry enterprises across northeast, along with the participation of national laboratories and regional government agencies,” says Junbo Zhao, an assistant professor in UConn’s College of Engineering, associate director at the Eversource Energy Center, and the principal investigator for CyberCARED. “It’s paramount to develop and broaden innovative programs dedicated to cyber-security education, training, and workforce development within the power industry. Currently, the northeast region lacks such a curriculum tailored specifically for the energy sector.”

The five northeastern universities joining UConn in the effort include the University of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Vermont, Central Connecticut State University, and New York University. Also involved in the project as either partners or team members are an additional 20 public and private-sector stakeholders, including Eversource Energy, Avangrid, and the National Renewable Energy Lab.

“Continuing to enhance the security of our grid is a high priority for the state and the regional grid operator, the ISO-New England,” state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes says. “The cybersecurity center led by UConn is a welcome addition to these efforts and will significantly increase our ability to maintain a secure grid while adding smart technologies, which help optimize grid performance at the lowest possible cost.”

In addition to education, continuing education, and training programs, the center will engage in high-level research to further development of new tools for the energy sector that consider the distinctive characteristics of the northeast’s electric system and infrastructure network.

UConn is uniquely positioned to lead this research effort, explains Emmanouil Anagnostou – the Eversource Energy Chair in Environmental Engineering at UConn and director of the Eversource Energy Center – because of the resources that the University has developed through its years-long partnership with Eversource but also because of the trust that the University has built with both federal regulators and the industry.

A Venn diagram showing the CyberCARED areas of focus.

“Cybersecurity research is important for ensuring reliable and resilient grid operation,” Anagnostou says. “Eversource has contributed significantly to our ability to conduct these efforts through the donation of the Advanced Real-Time Digital Simulation lab, which has been a critical stepping stone. Our lab and our center have established a well-defined framework to do this kind of research, and eventually to also expand this work into educational activities, due in large part to the faith Eversource has in the capabilities of our team.”

Anagnostou adds, “Through our extensive work on projects involving issues like resiliency and clean energy, we have developed a very trusted relationship with the utilities and the utility industry that spills to other companies that come to work with us. For cybersecurity, this is even more important.”

“Eversource is committed to providing its customers with safe and reliable service,” says Digaunto Chatterjee, vice president of system planning and interim senior vice president of engineering for Eversource. “Cybersecurity is a significant emerging threat to the power grid, especially given the increasing penetration of distributed energy resources and climate change-driven weather events. Eversource is therefore proud to support the cybersecurity research performed at the RTDS lab within the Eversource Energy Center as well as to be the utility partner in the CyberCARED DOE award.”

The new CyberCARED center also builds on a growing legacy of cybersecurity research, development, and education at UConn.

The University has been designated three times as a National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research and is home to several additional research and education centers focused on cybersecurity, including the Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust (CHEST), the Synchrony Center of Excellence in Cybersecurity at UConn Stamford, and the Center for Voting Technology Research (VoTeR).

“Cybersecurity is one of UConn’s key research pursuits, and with good reason,” says Pamir Alpay, UConn’s vice president for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. “With so much personal information out there, it’s incumbent on us to understand how we can safeguard our future against cyberattacks and other threats. We’ve been recognized for our work in cybersecurity, evidence of the excellence of our faculty and student researchers who are leaders and pioneers in the field.”

CyberCARED, however, takes UConn’s cybersecurity research and development into a new domain, says Zhao.

“This presents an incredible opportunity to collaborate with other centers in tackling the challenges within the energy domain,” Zhao emphasizes. “They’ve already established a strong reputation, which paves the way for collaboration. Now is the moment for energy.”


For more information about the research and initiatives underway at the Eversource Energy Center at UConn, visit eversource.uconn.edu.