Electrical engineers and those involved in the power generation sector play a critical role in bolstering power operations against intruders. However, the collaboration and support of corporate management and information technology (IT) departments are essential to mitigate cyberthreats, says energy management multinational Schneider Electric Energy Southern Africa VP Taru Madangombe.
Many electricity plants believe that their networks are isolated and secure, but without ongoing audits and intrusion detection, that perception could be a delusion, he adds.
“Utilities must revise their attitudes towards cybersecurity by highlighting it as a pressing need rather than an afterthought. Hackers tend to focus on attacking critical infrastructure industrial processes, rather than physical assets.”
Investment in prevention will have a far greater payback than investment in detection and removal, and, although investment to ward off immediate threats remains crucial, focusing on activities that prevent attacks reduces the need for future detection and removal expenditure, he emphasises.
A utility’s management must guide the development of a security policy that will set organisational security priorities and goals, because few companies have the resources to bolster all processes against all possible threats, he explains.
Departments working together enable project engineers to understand the security risks and possible mitigation strategies, while the IT department, which brings much of the security expertise, must understand the need for realtime availability to keep units online.
Further, the growing demand for open information sharing between business and production networks increases the need to secure transactions and data. For power-generating companies, the consequences of an attack could have a widespread impact and the need for cybersecurity grows even more pressing, says Madangombe.
“The open and interoperable nature of current industrial automation systems – many of which use the same computing and networking technologies as general-purpose IT systems – requires engineers to pay close attention to network and cybersecurity issues.”
Additionally, threats can come from external or internal sources, including terrorists, disgruntled employees, environmental groups or cybercriminals.