A sustainable future needs cybersecurity: 8 ways they work together

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As the world becomes more interconnected – with a projected 70+ billion connected devices by 2025 – comprehensive cybersecurity measures are increasingly crucial for critical infrastructure such as renewable energy generation, smart grids, water and wastewater treatment, and transportation. Take, for example, the 2021 Florida water treatment plant cyber breach that caused operation disruptions and increased risks of environmental contamination, resource mismanagement, and threats to public health. Further, Gartner predicts that by 2025, cyber attackers will weaponize operational technology, posing huge risks to human safety.

Sustainability needs cybersecurity

Beyond ensuring system cyber integrity and availability for day-to-day uninterrupted operations, digital systems quickly become the backbone of today’s sustainability initiatives. This highlights the fundamental link between cybersecurity and sustainability – their shared dependence on data and digital infrastructure – and the importance of integrating them.

Eight areas of synergy between sustainability and cybersecurity

At Schneider Electric, the fusion of digital and electric epitomizes sustainability. Sustainable initiatives rely on digital technologies, and sustainable practices, such as renewable energy source integration and energy consumption optimization, rely on electricity.

Electrification serves as the cornerstone of the convergence of cybersecurity and sustainability. Strengthening the cybersecurity of operational technology (OT) systems, such as a transportation network, bolsters the resilience and continuous operation of sustainable initiatives dependent on stable, secure electricity and trusted water and wastewater services.

Cybersecurity is not a standalone concern but rather an enabler for sustainable development. It is crucial to protect critical systems, technologies, and data, foster trust, and prevent malicious activities that could undermine sustainability efforts. 

When deployed in tandem in OT environments, common areas where sustainability and cybersecurity support each other include:

  1. Protecting critical infrastructure: The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that 70% of carbon emissions can be eliminated today – with digital technologies – by simply eliminating waste and inefficiencies. Cybersecurity ensures that essential infrastructure systems, such as power grids, water systems, transportation networks, communication systems, etc., are safeguarded against cyber threats, mitigating potential disruptions that could negatively impact sustainable operations.
  1. Securing renewable energy systems: Digital grids help reduce carbon emissions associated with electricity production and increase reliability and security in our energy supply systems. While embracing these digital technologies is necessary for greater efficiency, better user experiences, and sustainable solutions – it also opens the door to more cyber risks. Cybersecurity measures play a vital role in safeguarding these renewable energy systems.
  1. Preventing environmental damage: Sustainable practices often use internet of things (IoT) devices, sensors, and monitoring systems to optimize resource consumption and minimize waste. Cybersecurity helps protect these systems from unauthorized access or control, preventing potential environmental damage that could arise from malicious manipulation.
  1. Safeguarding sustainable technologies: With the rise of smart cities, connected vehicles, and other sustainable technologies (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric, etc), cybersecurity has become critical in protecting data, privacy, and the functionality of these innovations.
  1. Enhancing supply chain resilience: Cybersecurity measures ensure the resilience, integrity, and environmentally and socially responsible practices of supply chain operations by protecting against cyber threats such as data breaches, ransomware, and supply chain attacks.
  1. Fostering trust in sustainable technologies: End-to-end cybersecurity measures inspire confidence in the safety and privacy of sustainable technologies (such as automation and IoT devices, Building Management Control Systems (BMCS), programmable logic controllers (PLCs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (DCS), etc.) encouraging more widespread adoption and supporting sustainability goals.
  1. Preventing environmental cybercrime: Cybersecurity helps identify and mitigate fraudulent schemes, ensuring that sustainability projects and investments are directed towards legitimate and impactful endeavors rather than exploited by cybercriminals.
  1. Promoting data security in environmental research: Environmental research often involves sensitive data collection and analysis. Cybersecurity safeguards this data from unauthorized access, ensuring the confidentiality and accuracy of findings, leading to informed decision-making in sustainability planning and policy implementation.

How partnerships enhance cybersecurity and sustainability success

Unlike in Information Technology (IT), where disruptions may occur in email or network communications, OT failures directly impact critical infrastructure control systems. This causes downtime, significant financial and reputational implications, and a risk to physical safety.

However, expert resource shortages are particularly acute in OT cybersecurity. Continuous monitoring, adaptation, and collaboration across sustainability and cybersecurity are vital to staying ahead of evolving cybersecurity challenges. Yet, few organizations have the resources or in-house skills to do so.

Schneider Electric has committed to long-term sustainability leadership, delivering tangible impacts for the planet and our ecosystem. We offer the skills, experience, and proven solutions in sustainability, efficiency, and cybersecurity to benefit our customers. 

Our team of global OT cybersecurity experts can provide support to help organizations build up their in-house security and sustainability capabilities in multiple ways:

  • 24/7 OT resiliency: Our Managed Security Services proactively detect and mitigate threats, reducing risks and ensuring operational continuity with industry-leading capabilities to contribute to sustainable and reliable industrial operations.
  • Tailored solutions: Leverage the global security teams and best-in-class technologies to receive comprehensive, vendor-agnostic cybersecurity solutions specifically designed for OT environments, enhancing sustainability and security in industrial environments.
  • Bridging the gap: Our end-to-end services help optimize your industrial ecosystems for secure outcomes, ensuring sustainable and secure integration between IT and OT systems.
  • Unparalleled experience: With over 180 years of expertise in connected systems, we offer the strategies, solutions, and services you need to secure your OT environment, prioritizing operational risk and asset availability without compromise.

For more information

To learn more about how a partnership with Schneider Electric cybersecurity experts can better protect your installed base of sustainability-related operations, visit our website or download our eBrochure.

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