Why energy companies must prioritize cybersecurity to leverage Industry 4.0
To fully benefit from Industry 4.0, critical infrastructure such as power generation must prioritize cybersecurity. It’s no longer an option to say “We won’t digitalize because it’s not worth the risk.” The reality is that the benefits of digitalization and Industry 4.0 are too compelling to ignore. As well, there are more tools, technologies and strategies available today to mitigate those cybersecurity risks in an operational technology (OT) setting like those found in industrial and critical infrastructure facilities.
By Ziad Al Sati, Vice President Controls & Digitalization Region Middle East in Siemens Energy Dubai
This is true, even as a recent Siemens Energy study looking at cyber readiness in the Middle East oil and gas sector found that nearly 60 percent of respondents believe the cyber risk to OT to be greater than IT. As well, 75 percent of those questioned had experienced at least one security compromise resulting in unrestricted information loss or operational disruption in the OT environment in the past 12 months.
For operators of critical infrastructure in the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), Industry 4.0 solutions provide a wealth of benefits, including enabling both remote monitoring and remote outages, and facilitating greater power plant optimization. For example, in remote places such as pipeline pumping stations, or desert or offshore oil and gas locations where it’s difficult and time consuming for human personnel to access or represents a safety or environmental hazard, connectivity allows for remote real-time monitoring and management of those assets.
Another benefit of Industry 4.0 connectivity is remote outage support. This allows local engineers in the Gulf to live-stream data and visual information using augmented reality to technical experts in global hubs such as Berlin or Orlando. These experts can provide invaluable support, no matter where the asset is located. Together, the local and remote engineers, who have the same plant details at hand, can address and resolve any issues that come up during an outage. This can shorten outage times and raise asset availability.
Another important use of digitalization is in helping industrial facilities, such as power plants, to optimize capacity, reduce fuel consumption, and lower NOx gases and CO2 emissions. Coupled with optimizing outage planning, digitalization can even allow for lower OPEX and less spending on maintenance. As well, digitalization helps power plants perform better and operate more flexibly, thereby making it easier for utilities to manage the increasing contribution of intermittent renewable power.
But these Industry 4.0 benefits are only possible in combination with effective cybersecurity in the OT environment. Siemens Energy approach this with a multi-pronged approach: first, intrusion detection monitoring of a critical infrastructure’s complete OT network. We leverage artificial intelligence and unsupervised machine learning to create a baseline for normal behavior of the network’s communication. We then passively monitor the entire network and determine anomalies in real time, without configuration or pre-set conditions.
Second, we inspect and monitor the asset to determine weaknesses or threat gaps within the OT network and among its component systems. Implementing appropriate security could include imposing one-way communication with information flowing only out from an asset.
Thirdly, we make sure the latest software and hardware updates are available and installed for the entire automation system. Finally, we ensure that in the case of any security incident, there is a plan in place to get the plant back on line as soon as possible.
If you’re a critical infrastructure operator, you need to adopt. Competitive and environmental pressures and the needs of renewable energy make a clear case for greater connectivity and digitalization. But this imperative toward Industry 4.0 must be matched by an equal commitment to cybersecurity controls that mitigate the risks reflected in connecting your critical assets.
By Ziad Al Sati, Head of Controls & Digitalization, Service and Digital at Siemens Gas and Power in the MENA region