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The Importance of Cyber Security in the Transition to Sustainable Energy

As companies make the move to reduce their carbon emissions and become more energy efficient, it often means adopting new and innovative technologies. Although these technologies are helping transform the way we generate, store and consume energy, they open organisations up to a wider range of risks. With technology comes vulnerabilities, and these vulnerabilities can be exploited by cyber criminals.

Cyber Attacks on the Energy Industry

The energy industry is already a high-profile target for cyber criminals, with energy and utilities ranking in the top 5 industries most vulnerable to cyber attacks. As sustainable energy relies more on technology, it opens the industry up to even more cyber risk.

“Renewable energy penetration to the grid across the globe is on the rise, and with their critical role of supporting sustainability, energy independence as well as quicker demand response, they are being incorporated not only by utilities but also residentially,”

“This adoption makes them a lucrative target for cyber-attacks due to the interconnectedness with the power grid and their potential catastrophic consequences.”

Anuj Sanghvi, Technical Lead at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

These evolving technologies are becoming smarter and more connected, so when organisations are implementing sustainable energy systems, they’ll need to have an understanding of the potential cyber threats, and implement reliable cyber resilience and incident response measures.

What Are the Main Cyber Risks?

One of the main risks that face sustainable energy systems is the possibility of a cyber attack. Malware can be used to exploit vulnerabilities in these energy systems, potentially causing damage to physical infrastructure or stealing sensitive data. Cyber criminals can also gain unauthorised access to the systems and disrupt energy production.

We saw the first cyber incident on a renewable energy provider back in 2019, when sPower, a Utah-based renewable energy provider, fell victim to a cyber attack. An unpatched firewall allowed the attacker to crash the device, breaking the connection between sPower’s wind and solar power generation installations and the company’s main command centre. sPower said it mitigated the intrusion by patching outdated devices.

Outdated software and devices are a massive risk for any organisation. When they become outdated, they no longer received security updates, patches, or bug fixes. This can leave your organisation open to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cyber criminals, giving them unauthorised access to your systems and data.

Sustainable energy systems often rely on elements from multiple suppliers, making them vulnerable to supply chain attacks. These attacks occur when cyber criminals compromise an organisation, and then move up the supply chain exploiting the supplier relationships to gain access to other organisations’ systems. When selecting suppliers, your organisation should be carrying out thorough due diligence and asking for a full overview of their security practices. You should also look out for any security certifications they may hold like Cyber Essentials Plus and ISO 27001. Certification to these frameworks demonstrates that they have implemented measures and controls to help protect their organisation from cyber threats and these have been validated by an external approved entity.

What Security Measures Should You Be Taking?

As with any organisation, there is a baseline of security measures you should be implementing to ensure you can protect against the most common types of cyber threats.

Robust cyber security practises should be adopted, layered with appropriate security tooling. Such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, next generation antivirus, threat hunting and managed detection and response software. These tools act as an alerting mechanism or security barrier, protecting your organisation from malicious software, unauthorised access and many other forms of cyber threats.

This software should be kept up to date, along with any other software in the organisation, as soon as the updates become available. These updates often contain patches to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cyber criminals. Carrying out regular vulnerability and penetration tests will also help identify potential threats and weaknesses in your systems, allowing you to patch them before they can be exploited.

Clear security guidelines and incident response measures should be put in place to ensure everyone in the organisation is following cyber security best practice, and understands what their role and the procedure is in the event of an incident. Having these plans in place can help your organisation manage the effect of an incident, and limit the damage caused and reduce any financial impact.

When adopting new technologies and procedures into your organisation, it’s essential that staff receive the proper training and education around cyber security threats. When it comes to these threats, your staff are often your first line of defence. By providing regular training, you can ensure your staff know how to detect and respond to a cyber incident quickly and effectively.

Any shift to new infrastructure and technology must happen with cyber security built in front and centre. This means not only incorporating cyber security in the technical aspects of the system, but the organisation and cultural factors that shape how the organisation manages, detects and responds to cyber threats.”

“The transition to sustainable energy is an exciting and necessary development, but organisations need to make sure they’re prioritising cyber security at every step of the implementation process. By doing this, we can ensure that the shift to sustainable energy is safe, secure and successful.”

Benn Morris, Managing Director – 3B Data Security

A Note from Our Experts

Consultus’ Chief Technology Officer, Ed Gray, discusses the top cyber threats to remain vigilant of when transitioning to sustainable energy.

“The transition to sustainable energy is an important step towards a more environmentally friendly and sustainable future. However, at Consultus we’re more than aware that it’s important to remember that this shift also comes with new set of security risks, and that cyber security must be a top priority to ensure the safety of both people and the environment. By taking proactive steps to protect energy infrastructure and its dependent services from cyber threats, we can help ensure a more secure and sustainable energy future for everyone.”

“At time of writing one of the main, identified risks of cyber-attacks on energy infrastructure is the potential for actual, physical damage to equipment. For example, a bad actor, in this case a nation state, could gain access to a wind farm’s control system or even a nuclear-powered production facility and cause the control systems to fail and cause minor to very significant impact to not just the supply itself but to the neighboring communities.”

“To mitigate these risks, it’s important for energy companies, governments and those operating within the renewable energy sector to prioritize cyber security in their transition to sustainable energy. This includes investing in secure technologies, implementing strong security protocols, and educating employees about cyber threats and how to prevent them. It’s also important to conduct regular risk assessments and to stay up to date with the latest cyber security threats and trends.”

This information in this blog was provided by 3B Data Security

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