Office of Electricity

A Look at How Innovation at Los Alamos National Laboratory Is Helping Keep Our Nation Secure

June 8, 2017

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A reliable, resilient, and secure power grid is critical to U.S. economic competitiveness and leadership. As part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) commitment to strengthening, transforming, and improving the energy infrastructure so that consumers have access to reliable and secure electricity, scientists and engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are developing an advanced technology that uses the unseen quantum realm to prevent an adversary from sending malicious signals, data or malware to the grid.   

The work, which is funded by DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE), is focused on creating an end-to-end communication system that allows important “nodes” on the grid such as utility control centers to communicate more securely. The idea is to transmit information with single photons – tiny particles of light that cannot be intercepted, split, or even measured by an adversary. In fact, should an adversary attempt to steal the information, the very attempt changes the particles of light in a way that is quickly apparent to legitimate users who can then respond to the attempted intrusion, keeping the communication trustworthy. The LANL team has already shown that these systems work seamlessly with existing electric grid communication protocols by installing a test system on actual electric grid stations. As this work progresses, LANL expects to be able to reduce the cost and size of the systems while also expanding their interoperability with existing energy infrastructure. 

LANL’s Quantum Key Distribution project is part of a larger strategy that DOE is working on with our strategic partners:  the DOE National Laboratories. Some of the other research activities taking place within DOE’s National Laboratories to help the energy sector keep the lights on – even during a cyber attack – include energy delivery control systems that can automatically adapt to survive, and that can distinguish a stealthy cyber attack from a malfunction resulting from a different cause. More information on our strategic partnership with DOE’s National Laboratories can be found in the cyber section of the OE website.  

As we continue leveraging our National Laboratories to improve our energy and national security, early stage research and development such as LANL’s Quantum Key Distribution project will be critical to helping ensure the reliability, security, and resiliency of the U.S. electric grid.