Nadja Bartol, Vice President of Industry Affairs and Cyber-security Strategist, Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) at African Utility Week, explains why cybersecurity is critical for today’s utilities and why it is becoming increasingly important for utilities in Africa to secure their systems.
New system interconnection enables ‘smart’
She says that the older utility systems were never meant to be connected to the internet so no-one thought of securing these from cyber attacks. This is in comparison to the IT-based utility systems that have been developed in the last 10 to 15 years which are more secure.
Today’s utilities now connect their power and business operations systems on some level because utilities need the data from the grid to run the business and operations side more effectively, thereby enabling them to make “smarter” and more informed decisions about power distribution and usage for instance. Without systems being connected, smart grids, smart technology and smart cities are not possible.
Africa well placed to learn from other utilities
Because African countries are now in the process of expanding and upgrading their power infrastructure, it is important that appropriate security measures are applied at the beginning of a rollout. Bartol points out that Africa is well placed since it can learn from the failures and successes of countries in Europe and the US. This also includes the adoption of global standards for general guidance which can be adjusted to local needs over time.
IT/OT must apply appropriate security
Discussing IT/OT convergence, Bartol says that the OT sector appears not to be applying sufficient cyber security and that the IT department’s security solutions may not be appropriate for OT system application.
She points out that skills and technologies are the same but priorities are different. The challenge is not technical but rather cultural. When there are two different practitioners with different goals and approaches, they have to work differently but towards the same end goal. Many utilities in the US have recognised these differences and are training staff to work together more effectively.