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PERSPECTIVES


Cybersecurity in chemicals: Q&A with Robert Boyce

Digital transformation in chemicals demands increased attention to cybersecurity practices.
Robert Boyce
Robert Boyce
Managing Director—
Accenture Operations, Cybersecurity
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In chemicals and across all industries, cybersecurity is one of the most talked about subjects in business today. What has made it such a hot topic?
Digital technology innovations—such as big data analytics, robotic process automation (RPA) and the Internet of Things (IoT)—are causing business models to evolve rapidly. These advances are bringing exciting new opportunities to companies as they start operating in a more interconnected and integrated environment.

But digital is also introducing new elements of risk and greater vulnerability to cyber threats. These risks will continue to multiply—more sophisticated attacks from external and internal actors as well as an increase in attack surface with more perimeter devices such as IoT sensors to infiltrate and more data being transmitted to the cloud for analytics.

In this fast-paced environment, cybersecurity is no longer about simply protecting vulnerable assets within the four walls of the enterprise. Leading companies must rethink the nature of security and start to strengthen these assets, making them part of a holistic cybersecurity process that delivers greater value.

Why should cybersecurity be a top priority for chemical company executives?
Two words: growth opportunities. We are seeing chemical companies pursue digital opportunities to counteract the effects of volatile industry conditions and low commodity prices. Strategic cybersecurity must go hand in hand with this approach. For instance:

  • Automating aspects of chemical production plants can significantly increase efficiency, but it also causes the convergence of operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) environments, which exposes the less secure OT systems to cybersecurity threats.

  • Centralizing business functions across the supply chain can increase transparency into upstream materials and downstream customer needs, yet requires more dependency on cloud-based infrastructure to share data across a diverse business ecosystem.

  • Installing IoT sensors in factory equipment and running predictive analytics can reduce maintenance costs; however, the devices also provide a larger attack surface with additional points of entry.

Although digital brings many efficiency and productivity opportunities to drive growth, cybersecurity must be an integral part of this plan for risk management.

How should cybersecurity threats like these be addressed?
Chemical companies need to take a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity across the entire business. While many are investing in basic technology defenses such as firewalls, and some are exploring newer cybersecurity technology such as behavioral analytics tools, there are clearly gaps between where most chemical companies are and where they feel they need to be.

In fact, Accenture recently collaborated with HfS Research on “The State of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust 2016,” an in-depth study of more than 200 enterprise security professionals that I highly recommend reading. The research looks at the evolving nature of threats and outlines deficiencies in five key areas—talent, technology (detection and response), organizational parity, budgets and funding, and management. It also provides recommendations for how cybersecurity professionals and business executives can work together to fill these gaps.

In addition, the report examines a fascinating but relatively new area of cybersecurity: digital trust. It’s not a technology or a process, but “an outcome exemplified by secure, transparent relationships and engagement between the enterprise and its employees, partners and customers.”1 Maintaining digital trust will be pivotal to competitiveness in the future, and chemical companies will definitely need to consider it in their overall cybersecurity strategy.

Tell us about what sparked your interest in technology and what interests you outside of work.
I have been interested in technology since I connected my first personal computer to the television in my living room at age 11. I have always been drawn to cybersecurity and how small changes in software and hardware could dramatically impact expected outcomes, whether or not desired.

Outside of work, my passion is travelling and exploring all corners of the globe that are new to me. I like experiencing the diversity of the world and learning about new cultures and customs. And, of course there is all the great new food—I'll give most things a try.

Footnotes:

1 "The State of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust 2016," Accenture and HfS Research, 2016, https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-cybersecurity-digital-trust-2016.