Future-proofing cybersecurity8 December 2023
With cybersecurity continuing to be a risk within the hydropower and dams industry, an increased focus on the value of investments in digital security will help enable enhanced decision-making for stakeholders
Organisations have previously developed their cybersecurity programmes to address regulatory changes, business decisions, customer demands and threats but, as a recent Gartner report by Gopal et al predicts, the challenges confronting cybersecurity leaders in the future are evolving beyond technology, cybersecurity, and controls.
“Modern cybersecurity leaders will use a human-centric design to strengthen their programme and optimise human potential,” the report states, adding that meeting these challenges will require a redoubled focus on people.
One concern is that burnout has made its way into the cybersecurity industry, and little is being done to address this. It has been suggested that by 2025, nearly half of cybersecurity leaders will change jobs and a quarter of these will choose different roles entirely due to multiple work-related stress. As Gopal et al explain, burnout coupled with less than zero percent unemployment in this industry enables employees to find “greener or even just different pastures at will”. And to mitigate this, industry leaders are being urged to focus on the health and well-being of their cybersecurity teams.
“Care and feeding alone is not enough”, the report warns. “A key stressor of our work is that often our teams are playing a game they can’t win because they are always playing defence. We must find opportunities for our teams to be recognised for putting ‘points on the board’ rather than just blocking opponents.”
Human error can also be used as a key indicator of cybersecurity-process-related fatigue within organisations, as stress and burnout have a direct impact on the quality of decision making. By 2025, the Gartner report predicts that a lack of talent or human failure will be responsible for over half of significant cyber incidents – quite simply because humans are a principal cause of cybersecurity failures. The number one reason why an employee chooses to act unsecurely is for increased speed or convenience, followed by a lack of personal consequences and business needs outweighing risk.
“The number of cyber and social engineering attacks against people is spiking as threat actors increasingly see humans as the most vulnerable point of exploitation. The best cybersecurity programmes can’t protect an enterprise when human actors unintentionally or maliciously compromise the enterprise,” Gopal et al say. “To confront this rising threat, more than half of chief information security officers will adopt formal insider risk management programmes by 2025 and pay for them primarily by promising early detection and prevention of data exfiltration.”
Furthermore, Gartner defines insider risk as “the potential for an individual who has or had authorised access to either maliciously or unintentionally act in a way that could negatively affect the organisation.” And by 2025, insider risk will cause 50% of organisations to adopt formal programmes to manage it, up from 10% today.
Looking to the future, cybersecurity leaders need to think beyond just phishing testing and resilience to social engineering. Helping business leaders make good threat-aware decisions and focusing on the early detection of risky behaviour by employees will result in organisations being able to take a proactive approach to minimise the risk and increase enterprise agility. Far greater returns are to be had in elevating the conversation to value propositions and business/operating models.
As digital business itself matures from a culture of exploration to ‘business as usual’ it not only brings massive advantage to organisations but changes the nature, quantity, and impact of risks. Gopal et al add that it’s important for cybersecurity leaders to stress to stakeholders that investment in cybersecurity means the ability to be a digital business.
The Gartner report also goes on to discusses the importance of embedding cybersecurity as an ideology in organisations and flipping mindsets.
“No one ever argues against profitability or mission success because those are core values of an organisation. Cybersecurity falls to a distant Nth on the scale of enterprise priorities when it clashes with the profitability or mission success. Yet, when we look at mining, oil and gas, and energy and utilities companies, we see safety as a top priority alongside profitability. The ideology of ‘safety’ is now on par with profit across asset-heavy industries. Although it took dramatic oil platform failures and mining collapses to change that dynamic, once it became clear that cost-cutting on safety costs lives and ultimately affects the bottom line, the ideology changed.
“It’s easy to think of cybersecurity as something ‘separate’ when you think of enterprise success being due largely to people being supported by machines. But just as with assembly line manufacturing, enterprise success today is largely driven by machines underpinned by people. CISOs can gain a lot of mileage,” the report adds, “simply helping one’s enterprise realise that cyber, like asset maintenance, and safety are core to the enterprise’s value proposition, not something separate.”
Over 40 cyber-attacks in the past 20 years have targeted US hydropower facilities, including both information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) with a clear trend of increasing OT system focus.
“As hydropower plants become increasingly integrated via advanced smart devices alongside legacy systems, it is critical to address the cybersecurity challenges that arise,” Sanghvi et al explain in a new paper published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the US.
“One barrier to deploying an effective programme of cybersecurity measures is the lack of a formal methodology to assess the value of improving the hydropower cybersecurity posture,” the authors state, adding that without such guidance, “it is difficult for hydropower plant managers to justify or prioritise investments in improving their plant’s cybersecurity maturity and to harden their plants against cyberattack”.
With this in mind, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Argonne National Laboratory, with support from the US Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, have developed an industry-accessible tool for user-friendly, risk-based cybersecurity assessments of hydropower plants
The Hydropower Cybersecurity Value-at-Risk Framework (CVF) is implemented as an online web application that takes “a novel approach of conducting risk-based valuation assessments” and walks users through a series of questions to create a semiquantitative value-at-risk score, as well as a prioritised set of recommended actions to improve cybersecurity posture.
Sanghvi et al also discuss how the capabilities of the CVF will be improve. This includes development of a pipeline for the automated tagging of threats to controls and for the automated analysis of the common vulnerabilities and exposures that might be relevant to systems.
Other advancements of the CVF application will include an organisational view of cybersecurity risks, including multiple assessment results from different facilities within the organisation.
“The CVF provides a bird’s-eye view of the value of investments in cybersecurity to enable enhanced decision making for stakeholders,” the authors conclude, adding that as it is continually refined, the benefits to the cybersecurity posture of hydropower will continue to grow.