Small businesses are crucial to helping the federal government develop innovative energy and defense solutions that can one day be offered commercially. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has announced an award of $37 million for 120 projects that will bring these types of solutions to the public market, including a project funded by the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). 

The CESER-funded project, led by Achilles Heel Technologies, uses advanced math and physics techniques to model possible cyberattacks on cyber-physical systems and develops theoretical solutions. Just as a computer maps out possible moves and viable strategies in a virtual chess game, the tool runs an evaluation on cyber-physical systems, simulates potential attack scenarios, calculates probabilities, and generates possible resolution strategies that would result in little or no risk to the system. The result is a feedback report that can assist users in making decisions on how to upgrade or adjust their systems to combat threats.
The main goal of this project is to develop a tool that can be used to both understand and quantify the vulnerabilities that these cyber systems face, while also proposing solutions to secure them. If made commercially available, the tool could be expanded for use on more than just energy systems; possible use cases include evaluating cybersecurity capabilities for private companies, or even household networks.

Small businesses that demonstrated the feasibility of their projects during their Phase I SBIR grants competed for funding for prototype or process development during Phase II. This project continues work performed by Achilles Heel in Phase I, during which they received nearly $200k from CESER to develop the first stages of the project and prove its capabilities. In that time, they developed some of the required mathematical formulas and code and produced several sample attack scenarios using adapted vulnerability analysis tools. They also created a unique mathematical technique for simplifying the non-linear power models the system used. Now, having been selected for additional $1.1 million in funding for Phase II, the team is working on training these models, packaging them together, and getting the tool to produce the feedback reports so that once the modeling is done, it can spot the vulnerabilities and offer recommendations for resolution. Phase II of the project will be a two-year endeavor, after which they hope to have a demonstrable minimum viable product.

Through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) awards, small businesses power the U.S. economy and generates thousands of jobs and develop innovative products and services. For more information on the other recently selected projects, read the full release by the DOE Office of Science.