The increasing overlap between cybersecurity and process safety

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World news has always fascinated me – I think I got this from my Grandmother. Growing up, every so often everything stopped, the house fell quiet and the silence was broken only by the sound of the news on the radio. Like many people today, I still listen to the radio while driving, but most of my news comes from the Internet. Recently I was surfing the web looking for news stories on one of my favorite sites and I came across a story which made a serious impression on me.

Many of the blogs I have previously written are about industrial data and the great opportunity to improve operational efficiency that is brought about by the Industrial Internet of Things. In those blogs I talk about how devices which have an IP address and are connected to plant Ethernet networks can provide data to guide process improvements – data which can be accessed by anyone with the right credentials and from pretty much anywhere.

So that brings me back to the news story I saw recently – it was about an explosion and a fire at an oil pipeline that occurred back in 2008. According to the story, hackers exploited a vulnerability in a network connecting cameras used for pipeline monitoring. Allegedly, these hackers gained entry to the network and placed malware on a computer inside the system to gain future access at will. Once inside the system they were able to manipulate valve station controllers to cause critical pressure build ups inside the pipe, resulting in the subsequent explosion and fire. In addition, apparently manipulation of security video and alarm data to avoid any automatic notification of the incident was also part of the operation. The alarm was eventually raised by a security worker who noticed the fireball 40 minutes later and called the control room.

There are other news stories out there just like this, but the bottom line is: with the increasing use of networks and intelligence in industry, there is potential for hackers to do a lot more than just steal documents or post embarrassing photographs of people. The right protection from cyber attacks is essential if these modern networked control systems are to perform safely. The advent of the Industrial Internet of Things offers businesses exciting new opportunities to access data and use that data to improve productivity. It also means that as manufacturers prepare their plants for the future they should start thinking about how these days cybersecurity and process safety threats overlap each other.

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When preparing for this future, planning is essential. Partnering with a company who can offer security consulting and engineering services to determine, and then help you execute, the right plan is the means to protect your systems at the highest level and achieve long term benefits from your capital and operational investments. Choosing a company who has a solid reputation for Process Safety is a good idea since they already have the right expertise in house. It’s also a good idea to make sure your IT and OT folks communicate.

After all it’s no good if your cyber security measures are solid yet lock out your production people from running the plant! Coming back to my headline, if you work with a partner who also has process safety expertise they will put this experience to use and can help you coordinate your cybersecurity strategy. After all when it comes to plant safety no news is usually good news.

What’s your plan to get your Process Safety and Cyber Security teams talking?

Check out our Process Safety Resource Center to read more.


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