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June 05, 2020
The most critical assets in organizations are often most overlooked
By: Jim Guinn

With cyberattacks spiking, now’s a good time for companies that depend on operational technology (OT) and industrial control systems (ICS) and their processes to take a rigorous look at their defenses.

Actually, forget the word good. Now’s an essential time to take a look … before it’s too late.

Too often, these assets are overlooked in the cybersecurity value chain and too often, they represent the potential for an organization’s most material impacts from a cyberattack. Beyond brand damage, fines and the other problems that follow a cybersecurity incident, OT and ICS assets are mission-critical to energy and infrastructure. They keep America and the world running. A successful cyber attack could mean significant financial and environmental damage – and, possibly, loss of life. The risk "is worsening, with potential for severe financial, environmental and infrastructure damage," Siemens and the Ponemon Institute wrote in a recent report based on survey responses from 1,700 utility professionals worldwide. The report, which focused on cyber risks to electric utilities with gas, solar or wind assets, as well as water utilities, also noted that the risk cyber-attacks pose to the OT environment "is increasing in frequency and potency as malicious actors’ ability to accurately target critical infrastructure assets improves."

That may be why cybersecurity has emerged as the top focus of upstream oil and gas companies’ digital investments, according to a new report from Accenture. We asked 255 industry professionals, including C-suite executives, functional leaders and engineers around the world which digital technologies their organizations are investing in today. Sixty one percent cited cybersecurity. That’s five times higher than the 12 percent who cited cybersecurity when asked the same question in 2017.

"Utilities are increasingly using automation and smart devices to reliably distribute electricity,” said Stephanie Jamison, Senior Managing Director for Utilities globally. “The devices and assets from generation to the meter all have great potential to ensure reliability, but because they are network-connected, they also have the potential to be exploited. As our clients push more and more into the digital domain, safety and security are critical.”

The other half of the double-edged sword

At the same time that cyberattacks are increasing, companies also recognize that they must continue efforts to scale their digital initiatives to generate additional value and drive the ability to quickly adapt and compete. This adds an additional layer of security complexity onto OT systems and older technologies that weren’t built to withstand today’s cyber attacks.

One path to cybersecurity: test, prepare and test again

The challenge for companies that depend on OT and ICS technologies is knowing – really knowing – whether they’re prepared to deal with the advanced cyberattacks coming, in many cases, from nation/state actors. Until recently that wasn’t easy. In fact, we believed it was impossible. That’s precisely why we built the Houston OT Cyber Fusion Center with its globally connected OT Cyber Ranges. We believe no other facility in the world can match it when it comes to testing OT and ICS technologies against the most advanced threats. It’s going to take cybersecurity out of the shadows for these companies and put it where it belongs: in the limelight, where it can become a foundation for reliability and value.

The idea of the center is for companies to be able to test, learn and assess equipment in a safe, realistic, battle-proven setting. Believe me, when clients come in, we’re going to provide them with some real adrenaline spikes – but they’ll walk away with a better idea of where they stand and how to safely navigate a very difficult cyberattack environment. The center is the one facility where, under one roof, companies can test their entire OT value chain – from, for example, wellhead to pump.

Participating partners include Palo Networks, Nozomi, Cisco, Forescout, Microsoft, Splunk and a range of industrial automation suppliers, including Emerson, Honeywell, Rockwell Automation, Siemens and others.

That means companies that take advantage of the Houston Cyber Fusion Center get access to the best thinking and the best technologies.

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