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Interconnecting the cyber and physical worlds

(Image credit: Image Credit: Den Rise / Shutterstock)

Enterprises are continually enhancing and evolving their digital offerings. But, as businesses move quickly to adopt digital innovation, security becomes a bigger concern. It’s rare that a week will go by without a security attack or data breach making headlines. It's therefore no surprise that, according to the latest Government Cyber Security Breach Survey, 78 per cent of businesses now rate cybersecurity as a high priority.

As both the technology and sophistication of hackers improve, enterprises are increasingly waking up to the impact a cyberattack can have. Beyond the obvious financial loss, these attacks frequently cause irreversible damage to reputations as well as relationships with third parties, such as customers and suppliers. What’s more, as organisations such as the Information Commissioner's Office crack down on regulation and enforcement, businesses could face unwanted publicity and fines.

However, while a focus on cybersecurity is important, businesses must also note that cyber and physical threats no longer exist in isolation. With advancements in technology, increased global connectivity and the rise in the number of threats growing exponentially, these two security realms have started to overlap. Cyberattackers are increasingly trying to infiltrate and override systems that contain highly sensitive information on the operation of physical services, such as water or nuclear power plants. In turn, a security breach can now put the physical infrastructure of the business, as well as the physical safety of employees, in jeopardy.

For businesses to be prepared and protected against all incoming threats, an integrated and preemptive risk management strategy with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) has to take priority.

Physical and cybersecurity: Collaboration is key

With cyber and physical threats on the rise and becoming intertwined, the need for businesses to take a collaborative approach to security is paramount. When equipped with the right insights to work in unison, corporate risk teams are in the best position to prepare and protect their business against multidimensional and complex threats. In turn, enterprises can effectively maintain their reputation and minimise the risk of paying large fines.

Cybercriminals now have the power to take control of critical national infrastructure and cause catastrophic damage, with growing concern that these attacks are only going to increase. And the impact of these attacks can be devastating. In addition to causing economic disruption, water supplies could be interrupted, leaving thousands without fresh drinking water or sanitation; disruption to emergency services phone lines could result in lives being put at risk.

The fact that cyber and physical security are becoming one and the same was proven only too true recently when one of India’s newest nuclear power plants, Kudankulam, fell victim to a cyberattack. Kudanklam is India’s biggest nuclear power plant, equipped with two reactor units that feed India’s southern power grid. While the reactor operations at Kudankulam were reportedly unaffected, the incident serves as a wake-up call. Any type of attack on a nuclear power plant is cause for concern. While it is very difficult to successfully take complete control of a nuclear power plant, if it were to happen, there is the potential for very serious consequences, including potentially nuclear reactor core damage and off-site release of radiation.

In the past, there has been the assumption that critical physical infrastructure is immune to cyberattacks. But, the reality is that cyberthreats are the very reason these physical systems are becoming increasingly vulnerable. As such, it is vital that physical and cybersecurity are closely aligned. When working in collaboration with one another, threats to businesses can be identified in real-time, risk can be alleviated and a crisis can be avoided.

The power of real-time information in security convergence

With access to real-time information, both physical and cybersecurity teams are in a far more advantageous position to act in tandem and quickly overcome threats as they materialise.

In order for enterprises to build seamless collaboration between their physical and cybersecurity teams, both teams need access to the same accurate information simultaneously. However, there is a huge amount of information available from public data sets, such as shipping forecasts, flight data, dark web and IoT data. As such, this poses a significant challenge for risk teams, as they strive to ensure they are constantly aware of all the relevant information at all times. This is exactly where AI can deliver value. 

The latest AI algorithms have the ability to filter through the surfeit of publicly available information, detect events in real-time and bring to attention the most relevant insights as events unfold. Embracing these technologies allows physical and cybersecurity teams to work together to respond with precision, efficiency and speed. Additionally, teams can be alerted simultaneously to the same imperative updates, allowing for 20:20 vision of any emerging threat. 

Tim Willis, Director, EMEA Corporate Risk, Dataminr