The third in a series of webinars on ‘Ensuring Industrial Safety and Security in times of COVID-19 and beyond’ organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) brought together experts from Accenture Security, Europol, Kaspersky Lab, and the University of Oxford.
In the face of numerous challenges brought by a growing number of remote working arrangements and lockdowns, experts see a window of opportunity to improve cybersecurity, with companies, academia and government paying more attention than ever to the topic.
On the other hand, although “cybersecurity risks are not new, many industries still do not have sufficient capacities to properly secure their operational technologies, due to a lack of awareness,” said UNIDO’s Farrukh Alimdjanov in his opening remarks.
Upholding its role as a global convener and knowledge exchange leader on issues related to industrial safety and cybersecurity, UNIDO has continuously highlighted emerging risks, particularly those faced by companies that undergo a digital transformation. In recent years, attacks on critical infrastructure, production technology and healthcare institutions have become increasingly damaging. UNIDO argues that cybersecurity must be central to companies’ risk mitigation measures, as the technologies currently in place are too vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Managing director of Accenture Security in Ireland, Jacky Fox warned that “external access to operational technologies creates both a security and safety hazard”, creating not only economic risks, but inflicting potential damage to industrial sites. “Organizations should carefully identify assets requiring protection and ensure the necessary monitoring that will enable them to react in a timely and efficient manner if something goes wrong,” she added.
Criminal threats to operational information and communication technologies remain a core theme, and Philipp Amann of Europol, suggested that “criminals have been quick in exploiting the crisis and adapting their criminal business model” during the lockdown.
Despite growing concerns on cybersecurity, Evgeny Goncharov of Kaspersky ICS Lab brought into focus potential “windows of opportunity”, namely a higher awareness of security threats to companies and their operational technologies. Continued adaption of monitoring and control systems is critical to safety and security, as Goncharov warned, and will need the international community to disseminate and spread best practice examples of industrial cybersecurity to minimize the exposure to cyber attacks globally.
Participants agreed that threats to industrial control and production systems will remain high after the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, awareness-raising efforts aiming to ensure that cyber threats capture policymakers’ attention, feature in supervisory institutions’ control procedures, and flow into companies’ risk strategies, are vital to improving cybersecurity globally.