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Cyber danger in an operational technologies world

Honeywell’s leader for industrial cybersecurity in APAC, Ngai Chee Ban, finds that tech, people and process maturity in the enterprise cybersecurity space is eight years ahead that of the industrial sector cybersecurity space.

“The industrial sector used to use proprietary technology, but things are moving fast and IT is going deeper and deeper into the industrial control environment,” he said.

Especially with regards to the Internet of Things trend, which yields many useful applications, it is believed that IT is beginning to converge with operational technologies such as those found in the industrial sector.

And yet as OT starts to merge more and more with IT, Ngai described that cybersecurity risks become greater. “There is a predominant view that the industrial sector is shielded because of largely proprietary operational technologies.

“But, there is an advent of more and more new open systems, and co-existence (with legacy) is always a nightmare.”

Besides the headache which comes in the form of trying to integrate fundamentally different technologies, more vulnerabilities potentially exist now too.

But Ngai opined there is little choice than to continue to embrace more and more IT usage in the environment, even though this opens up attack surfaces for hackers to penetrate systems.

“Overall, the industry is trying to cope with more open systems co-existing with legacy OT systems.”

Honeywell Cybersecurity

According to Ngai, his cybersecurity organisation is part of a larger Honeywell industrial cybersecurity team of over 100 consultants worldwide.

“We are focused upon seeing to the cyber protection of our install base of customers. However, far and wide we also do have requests from users who aren’t Honeywell system users.”

Honeywell systems are found in a wide range of industries from oil and gas, power, mining, manufacturing, aviation and so on. He shared, “Today, most attacks are predominantly focused upon energy and oil and gas sectors, which make up a huge percentage of critical national infrastructure (CNI) in every country in Asia Pacific.

“In APAC, most oil and gas companies are largely state-owned, so there is more intense scrutiny in terms of how they comply to standards in terms of critical infrastructure protection.”

This is due to them being chief economic contributor to a country hence their importance as assets to governments.

But, it is also precisely because of this that that they are often targeted for disruption.

Ngai explained, “Especially in Southeast Asia, there is a huge geopolitical tension factor behind cyber attacks.” He added it would do well for governments to be cognisant of these factors because CNI like oil and gas processing plants are important chess pieces in terms of how power play works out among different nations.

He did also note that governments in the region, like Malaysia, Singapore and India are setting up their own cybersecurity authorities and agencies along with parallel development as a response to CNI protection and usage of Internet of Things.

“And that is an encouraging situation,” Ngai said.




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