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Cybersecurity: A Key Factor to be considered in the Utility Space

In recent years, we’ve countersigned a significant swing towards the integration of open communication platforms, such as Ethernet and Transmission Control Protocol (TP)/IP, across all industries, including mining and manufacturing, utilities, electricity and water management. This implies that our critical industries are more open and connected as compared to the other segments.
Out of these industries, the energy sector is at a particular risk.  A recent research from a renowned institute indicates that cyber-attacks on the energy industry accounted for 41% of overall reported cyber-attacks on the public and private sector. On the other hand, attacks on government, health care and finance accounted for less than 4% separately.
In this new space of operations, industrial equipment that may have once functioned individually has now become a part of a complex network. For instance, if we consider situation when the electricity is cut off in an isolated town due to the substation malfunction, the fault may be minor but can affect hundreds, thousands, or even millions.
Current Challenges
Today, various industries are spotting the severe attacks that could produce with each day. This has made the utility firms to secure their systems and to mitigate the threat of cyber-attack. In order to achieve a secured working environment, many organizations look for assistance from the matured cyber-security consultants in the IT space. This scenario has created a troublesome atmosphere as the IT approach is incompatible with the principles and priorities of facility operations. When it comes to protecting OT (Operational Technology), its continued operation is the most crucial thing than managing the data.
The occurrence of attacks in the energy sector can be largely associated with the increase in digitized, integrated, and connected operations due to which power networks have become more ‘smart’. This has been mainly supported by the operational technology (OT) i.e. hardware and software technology which is used to monitor and control plant processes, equipment and devices, with the main purpose of making things work flawlessly. By implementing connectivity this way, energy businesses have been improving the uptime and apparently enhancing the productivity. However, the integrated technology brings in many business benefits. Yet, the reality remains constant – the more connected these enterprises are, more open they are to the cyber-security breaches.
Way ahead to resolve the Issue
To overcome the concerns related to cyber-attacks, protection against cyber threats in the OT environment requires greater cross-domain activity. Hence, the IT managers, security managers, and engineers are advised to share their expertise to rectify the potential threats and attacks. With the realms of congregating IT and OT, smarter and robust solutions are becoming a reality at a fast pace. The only key to augmenting Cybersecurity in the OT framework is to have the technology and the processes in place that goes well with the specific functions and features that underpin the infrastructure.
However, mitigating risk and anticipating vulnerabilities to attack utility grids and systems include more than just installing technology. Utilities should also apply organizational processes that include continuous improvement of their cyber-security, physical security processes, and regular assessment. Furthermore, as utilities experience the convergence of IT and OT, it becomes mandatory to develop cross-functional teams to address the new challenges of technology that span both the worlds.
As the energy sector is becoming increasingly hyper-connected, the need for Cybersecurity continues to rise. In today’s digital as well as technology-driven economic landscape, hacking instrumental equipment can be the same as attacking a million. This is a very real and critical threat that organizations must begin to confront. With this high degree of risk involved, it has become crucial to act now to avoid the risk in the future.