Nation-E cyber-security centre fosters IT-operational security collaboration

Australian utilities are being encouraged to get involved in a new centre of excellence (CoE) launched to improve long-ignored infrastructure security by improving collaboration between information technology and operational technology leaders.

The Energy Cyber Security Center (ECSC), developed and executed by energy cyber security firm Nation-E, will open in Israel later this year and will provide a testing and proving ground – called the Energy Cyber Security Training Arena – for the testing and evaluation of energy equipment security protections.

Simulation of real-world energy crises and the maintenance of an energy-device performance database will provide a centre of gravity for an industry that Nation-E founder said can no longer, in the wake of crippling attacks like that instigated by the StuxNet worm, afford to take infrastructure security for granted.

“The new future of energy has a lot of good things to offer, but the digitalisation and the open network make it so vulnerable that you need to understand how to protect it,” Jammer told CSO Australia.

“Everybody understands that our vulnerability in the energy sector can damage GDP,” he continued, “but it is not an easy task because the threat has no face and we don't know today if our systems are already infringed.”

A recent Ponemon Institute survey of infrastructure operators found alarming levels of infrastructure security breaches, with 86 percent of executives saying they had suffered at least one security breach in the previous 12 months.

New and successful attacks by hackers had compromised the long-held belief amongst many infrastructure operators that 'air gap' protection was adequate for protecting SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and other infrastructure systems.

“The problem is that you cannot make an old system new,” Jammer said. “But we have to teach, educate, and mitigate all these problems. The combination between an off-grid SCADA system and a new endpoint security system, I think, is the way to go.”

Nation-E has spent the last four years developing software to support the ECSC and will launch it in September with the hope of bringing government organisations and private enterprises onboard to improve overall security.

Rather than simply patching up existing systems, a key focus will be on improving the monitoring of critical SCADA and other networks by adding connected, secured and manageable observation nodes. “On an IT level the vulnerability is already so big that it's hard to say investing any specific amount into the network will secure you better,” Jammer explained.

“This security needs to sit on all the operational infrastructure, monitor it, mitigate attacks and add new approaches like better authentication. In this new architecture every system, every solar panel, every inverter and every other device is monitored.”

The company had recently been contacted by representatives of the Australian mining industry but Jammer said the country's heavy investment in smart meters and other infrastructure technologies would make it a good source of partners for future security research.

“We need to look beyond and should not be naïve that it is the beginning of the end,” he said. “I think it's the beginning of the beginning, and that we as an industry need to be more proactive in order to understand what to do.”

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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Tags hackerssecurity collaborationattacksvulnerabilityPonemon InstituteE-cyber security centrecybercrimeEnergy Cyber Security Center (ECSC)

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