Technology and cyber security are of crucial importance in this COVID era. One of the most exciting transformations caused by the pandemic has been our transition to the digitisation of our world, in particular utilities network. Technology has been central to the way we have collectively managed the COVID19 crises. It allows us to operate pump stations, power stations, trucks, water and gas supply remotely. It has been a key to our infrastructure which made possible to the delivery of essential services, the continuation of business and maintenance of assets even in the most disruptive moments of the pandemic.

From the adoption of remote alarm monitoring to the use of Supervisory and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, internet of things, wifi, radio, cellular and satellite communications. In a short period of time, our reliance on the digitalised operation has exponentially increased due to the unprecedented connectivity which we are fast establishing. Utility companies achieved such advancements in digital transformation to their operation technology (OT).

However, a SCADA system failure can cause widespread damages. Although the severity of the damage is determined by the level of failure, the livelihood of the local communities will be more or less affected depending on the specific industry or sector in which the system has failed. A catastrophic failure can bring local areas to complete halt to the power supply, transportation, water and gas supply services, our local community as a whole. The COVID19 crisis would be seen in this respect as a small disturbance in comparison to a major utility network failure.

The cyber-attack on Colonial Pipeline in 2021 and Optus in 2022 marks a fundamental inflection point in our global course of digitalisation in operation technology. While it is still early to ascertain the future impact of the attacks, it is already visible that it has catalysing effect that exposed the inconsistencies and inadequacies of multiple systems including industrial communication system, to a certain extent operation technology network, hardware software, employee experience and management mindset. It has shed light to organisational shortcomings that had never been properly addressed before, which impede forward thinking and innovative solutions and communities orientated vision.

An existing fragmented operation technology network architecture is not fit anymore for purpose in the 21st century. It is high time for an in-depth audit. Change is not happening we have a choice to stay reactive, old-school engineering, repetitive design, and cookie cutter approach. If we do not stop this mindset, it will lead to a less secure, less efficient and much more fragile utilities industry. On the other hand, we can instead use our technology to re-evaluate our utilities and build a new defensive SCADA network. We recommend an operation technology of every critical infrastructure to shape a much more resilient system for local communities. Firstly, we encourage them be creative and fanatic about protecting our clients and communities to foster personnel growth which creates great engineers. Secondly, we advocate to open markets to large utility companies for their consideration for inspecting their SCADA networks. Finally, we utilise our technology to check and defence an operation technology network.

In conclusion, the OT is vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. Organisations must implement security measures at the network and device level, use security best practices and standards, and raise user awareness and education to ensure the protection of the industrial control systems and the Industrial Internet of Things. It is crucial for organisations to keep vigil with the latest security threats and apply the necessary design and implementation to mitigate them.

Australian Control Engineering is specialised in operation technology network, audit, design and implementation for utilities industry. If you would like to learn more about our capability and understand how we can help you protect your assets, please Contact Us.