Cybersecurity has to remain ‘front of mind’ for miners, says panel

18th September 2020 By: Simone Liedtke - Writer

Cybersecurity has to remain ‘front of mind’ for miners, says panel

As the world becomes more connected through information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), ABB local division manager for mining solutions John Manuell warns that cybersecurity will need “to remain front of mind”.

The advent and increasing use of digital technologies, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, he says, poses additional risks in that the integrity of information and intellectual property will need to be secured to avoid it “falling into the wrong hands”.

While the South African mining sector has seemingly not experienced many cybersecurity breaches, Manuell warns that “the potential is there” and urges mining companies to “really have a look” at taking cybersecurity seriously to avoid any future, and serious, issues.

In this regard, Microsoft mining resources lead Lerato Mathabatha says mining companies could be hesitant to adopt this new way of securing data, especially when one considers that working from home only became prevalent once the pandemic spread.

“Right now, with remote working, mining companies have had to hand over their data or even their applications and systems to users that are accessing these through their own devices,” she says, noting that the risk is now “far greater” than ever before.

Prior to Covid-19, mining companies had far more control of their security – they knew they had a perimeter in which their people worked, and they had an “absolute control” in keeping information safe.

With data, applications and systems now being in the hands of their users or employees, mining companies have to consider the cloud identities of employees and systems and how this information could either be secured or access controlled.

“It really must come from different angles when securing data, securing the applications but also securing the identities as well,” Mathabatha says, adding that “security itself has to be re-imagined because it is not in the control of mining entities like it used to be”.

Schneider Electric business development manager for its mining, metals and minerals division Craig Hudson, meanwhile, refers to this shift as one in mining technology, whereas pre-pandemic, the data was considered as site-wide data.

Rather, now, it is being uploaded into a cloud-based solution for remote access for analysis, fault finding and field work.

“With this convergence of the IT and OT space, cybersecurity has to be implemented at every layer, and you have to have it at the device level up to the edge and the cloud,” Hudson says, emphasising that “any mining operation that is looking to move forward in the digital space really has to take cognisance of their cybersecurity”.

The panel members spoke during a roundtable discussion on digital transformation and innovation in the mining sector as part of a Microsoft-hosted webinar which looked to explore the role that artificial intelligence and cloud technologies can play in leading sustainable recovery and digital transformation in the mining sector.