Energy is one of the most crucial commodities in the modern world. It powers homes, supports commerce, enables mobility and, in some of the more life-changing cases, backs hospitals in saving lives. It is the backbone of society and is instrumental in allowing communities to survive and thrive, while enabling the economy to fulfil its highest potential.
It’s safe to say energy has become a valuable necessity, dealt between countries, states, towns and cities. But the industry is venturing towards more digital means of operation, such as the adoption of IoT in its ecosystems to track, assess and manage energy, while blockchain technologies are being incorporated into the energy distribution system.
All of these digital devices operating at the edge of the energy system leave the industry prone to cyber attacks. The high value of energy combined with an increasing number of individual entry points make the energy sector as vulnerable as any other. The energy network not only piques the interest of ransomware attackers, but is also prone to nation-state disruption with the potential to weaken economies or create blackouts – which could all change the course of history.
While this may seem like a dramatic entry to the top of cybersecurity and how it feeds into energy prosperity for the better, it’s necessary to recognise the importance of electricity in the ecosystem of the future.
“As is the case with almost all industries, the energy sector is becoming increasingly digitised and digitalised,” says Mark Clark, VP Sales EMEA North at Onapsis.
“While that can be transformative from a monitoring, performance, and operations and maintenance perspective, it also comes with security risks. Each newly-digitalised channel or function is another avenue for cyber criminals to exploit.”
There’s one word that springs to mind when thinking about cybersecurity and its applications in energy: resilience. As threats are inflicted on the sector by more sophisticated systems and organisations – such as nation-state attacks – incorporating a cyber strategy into energy operations is an act of national security.
Environmental impacts of international disruption
There’s also a further element to be discussed here; talks of the environment and the impacts to be had if energy, especially the renewables sector, is disrupted. More organisations in the solar power sector will begin to receive further investment to lift up the industry and topple the effects of fossil fuels on the planet.
Energy resilience enables progress towards a more stable environment and social prosperity for more communities across the globe. If reliance on resources shifts, this will increase its importance and thus raise its profile even further. The deadline for global action against climate change is already tight and any disruption from a cyber attack could undo hope of emissions being reduced by the agreed finish lines.
“From an environmental perspective, I’d argue that having the right cybersecurity measures in place is incredibly important,” Clark says.
“That’s because breaches by cyber criminals can be environmentally destructive, particularly in a sector as sensitive as energy. There are obvious examples of why this is the case. Were cybercriminals to take out a renewable energy project, for example, energy providers might be forced to revert to older forms of energy.”
Take action and build resilience with cybersecurity
There is more to resilience than simply adopting new cybersecurity systems to manage the functions themselves. Understanding how they work and where a business can support their provider will enable them to become more proficient in the process.
Some of the actions to take or strategies to implement from a business perspective include:
- Security awareness training – Provide training and education to staff members regarding prevalent methods employed by malicious individuals, such as phishing and spear phishing, as well as promoting cybersecurity best practices. This encompasses both technical and procedural measures, emphasising their significance and demonstrating how they contribute to the reduction of cyber risks.
- Strong access controls – Enforce robust access controls, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and privileged access management, to prevent unauthorised entry into vital systems.
- Regular security assessments – Engaging in routine vulnerability scanning, penetration testing and simulations of cyber attacks can aid in the identification of vulnerabilities and deficiencies within security infrastructure and process-based controls. This proactive approach enables timely remediation of any issues discovered.
- Business continuity and incident response planning – Creating, implementing and conducting regular testing of a business continuity and incident response plan can enhance the speed of recovery and mitigate the impact and harm resulting from a cyber attack.
Providing insight into these tasks for enabling better energy cybersecurity is the Red Team Expert at CovertSwarm, Matt Watson, who says: “With threat actors now actively developing tools that specifically target infrastructure such as industrial control systems, the requirement for organisations to invest in cybersecurity to ensure they are equipped with the necessary tools, skills and expertise to identify and protect against cyber-attacks is critical”.
When it comes to corporate and national security, breaches can result in major disruption to global supply chains and, in turn, the public. From the perspective of the environment, each level of interruption to the energy sector could have catastrophic effects in the long term as progress to net-zero emissions is delayed significantly by the temporary reintroduction of fossil fuels.