Utility infrastructure is in dire need of modernization. In many parts of the world, the infrastructure that supplies electricity and water to consumers is ill-prepared to withstand natural disasters and increased energy demand. According to Itron’s 2022 Resourcefulness Report, integrating real-time data analytics into decision-making processes is one way to start modernization efforts, but nearly one-fifth of utilities say security and data Due to privacy concerns, I don’t take advantage of the tools I have. .
While there are security implications to consider, forgoing the deployment of data analytics tools is not a long-term solution for utilities. To meet customer demands while prioritizing security and privacy considerations, utility companies pursue holistic security programs that include both operational technology (OT) systems and systems that store and serve customer data need to do it.
Utilities face unique complexities
Cybersecurity is a priority across industries and across borders, but several factors complicate the unique environment in which utilities operate. In addition to the constant barrage of attacks as a regulated industry, utilities face several new compliance and reporting obligations, such as the Critical Infrastructure Cyber Incident Reporting Act of 2022 (CIRCIA). Other security considerations include aging OT, potential difficulty in updating and securing it, lack of control over third-party technology and IoT devices such as smart home devices and solar panels, and finally contains the greatest threat of all: human error.
These risk factors put additional pressure on utilities as a single successful attack can have fatal consequences. A hacker’s (thankfully unsuccessful) attempt to poison the waterworks in Oldsmar, Florida is one example of him that comes to mind.
Utilities have a lot to work on even before adding data analytics to the mix. Interestingly, however, consumers are less concerned about the privacy of data collected by their utilities. According to Itron’s 2022 Resourcefulness Report, 81% of utility executives are very or very concerned about keeping customer data private. Meanwhile, less than half (42%) of consumers say they are very or very concerned about utility companies accessing energy and water usage data to personalize the customer experience. In fact, many consumers want increased access to these advanced insights so they can reduce their energy usage and save money.
Data shows that consumer opinion is on the side of data analysis. To meet consumer demand, the utility must not allow his broader OT security concerns to slow down the deployment of data analytics tools. So what steps can utility companies take to mitigate these concerns and protect consumer privacy?
3 steps to protect your data
There are three key steps public authorities can take to protect the large amounts of data collected to enable real-time data analytics. A holistic approach that covers both OT systems and those that store and serve customer data gives utility executives more confidence in modernizing their technology.
Let’s dig deeper into these three steps.
1. Build a robust demilitarized zone (DMZ) to protect IT and OT from each other
A demilitarized zone (DMZ) provides strong network segmentation and acts as a barrier between IT and OT environments for utilities. This prevents a hacker from using traditional hacking techniques to infiltrate the utility’s IT network and gain an operational foothold. Companies should strive to keep their IT and OT systems as separate as possible, as well as simplify their networks as much as possible. The more complex the system, the more holes there are throughout the IT network. Malicious attackers are experts at detecting and exploiting these holes.
However, as with any strategy, nothing is foolproof. Therefore, utilities should have backups to detect and contain intrusions and reduce downtime in the event of a successful attack.
2. Address the human element
A high degree of precaution for corporate systems and networks is important, but we must remember that the greatest risk to cybersecurity will always be human error. Standard defenses such as multi-factor authentication, role-based access control, internal audit processes, spam filters, Microsoft Office macro prevention, endpoint detection and response, and data loss prevention solutions are easily accessible to employees It helps a lot to make it work. Make the right decisions and make it harder for bad guys to break in.
According to IBM’s annual report, “Ransomware and destructive attacks are responsible for more than a quarter of breaches in the critical infrastructure industry.” It is also wise to establish company-wide security awareness training to ensure a high culture. End users should be aware of all possible threats, including threats within their home devices.
3. Layer additional defenses on your most valuable target assets
Start by establishing a Zero Trust architecture that operates on the assumption that neither internal nor external users can be trusted. Then apply protocols to see which devices, applications, and users have access to your network and systems. When exposing your services to the Internet, take advantage of industry best practices by choosing proven, independently tested and validated technologies.
Once third-party penetration and vulnerability testing has identified the most likely targets for hackers, utilities can identify the most vulnerable and valuable target assets and implement encryption and multi-factor authentication. You can add an extra level of protection such as Combine these precautions with robust operational best practices such as comprehensive monitoring and strategic incident response planning.
Change is hard, but inevitable (and beneficial)
The utilities industry faces several disruptions beyond cyberattacks and privacy issues that are pushing executives’ attention in different directions. This includes integrating renewable energy, accommodating electric vehicles, and preparing for extreme weather. All this while dealing with the negative effects of aging infrastructure and grids. However, it is important to point out that there is utility support focused on strengthening cyber defenses. and a big win for U.S. utilities.
Data analytics is proving to be a roadblock in utility companies’ quest for modernization. However, once cybersecurity concerns are addressed and utilities embrace the power of real-time data analytics, critical infrastructure will become more reliable and resilient. Ultimately it will be something that keeps the lights and water flowing.