LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A $1 million federal investment in UA Little Rock will allow students to broaden their research into cyberattacks against energy systems.

The university announced Tuesday that it had received the award from the Department of Energy’s Office of Cyber Security, Energy Security, and Emergency Response. The funding will be used to expand the Little Rock-based Forge Institute’s Emerging Threat Information Sharing and Analysis Center to fight cyberattacks in the energy sector, such as electric utilities.

The Forge Institute is a nonprofit cybersecurity organization working through public-private partnerships.

A university representative said 10 students from UA Little Rock and the University of Arkansas would work with center members to conduct threat analysis.

Representatives said Forge Institute analysis center members would develop and deploy simulations to train and test defensive measures to enhance protection against cyberattacks. UA Little Rock will expand the UA Little Rock Cyber Arena, a cloud-based cybersecurity education and training platform, to provide an online learning environment where community members can access these simulations on demand.

The energy sector is an especially attractive target for cyber attacks, UA Little Rock assistant professor of cybersecurity Philip Huff said.

“The energy sector, and electric utilities, in particular, are on the front lines when it comes to nation-state cybersecurity attacks,” Huff said. “They are often among the first targeted because they provide critical services to society and are relied on by all other critical infrastructure sectors. It is especially important that we have cybersecurity protections for these services in place.”

The cybersecurity project was endorsed by Arkansas Sen. John Boozman.

“I’m proud to support initiatives that strengthen the Natural State’s role in combating cyber threats and prepare and train our workforce to help protect our information and secure our critical networks,” he said.

On May 23, UA Little Rock and the Forge Institute signed a memorandum of understanding with the Idaho National Laboratory, a Department of Energy research facility, for collaboration on cybersecurity research. A university representative said this is the first time an MOU has been signed between a federal laboratory and a state consortium.