While modern mining operations have been digital and connected for decades, the entire mining industry has undergone a major digital transformation over the past few years, where every function relies on digital connectivity. This reliance on digital technology will accelerate as the industry adopts immersion technologies like automation, artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and sophisticated robotics.
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These technologies will undoubtedly make mining operations more productive and help them become more sustainable. However, increasing dependence on technology will make operations more vulnerable to cyber threats.
In a 2021 mining industry survey from Ernst & Young, 71% of respondents reported increased disruptive cyberattacks their organization had suffered over the previous year. A total of 55% of respondents said they were concerned about their organization's ability to handle a cyberattack.
Companies concerned about threats should follow some proven best practices to navigate better cyber security challenges related to mining technology.
Cybersecurity Must be a Core, Fully Integrated Function
The most critical step toward addressing cyber security is recognizing its importance. To protect an organization from cyber threats, security must be a core function that integrates with many operations.
Many administrative and logistical challenges are unique to the mining industry, such as complex networks, remote sites, proprietary technology, widespread outdated systems, lack of interoperability, and a lack of industry-specific security tools.
Ensuring that cyber security is a part of every business function might require redrawing the organizational chart with security in mind. This helps to ensure security and support greater efficiency, lower costs, and better interdepartmental collaboration.
Once security has been weaved into the tapestry of an organization, those in the security apparatus can take steps to address risk, such as implementing security automation, identifying vulnerabilities, and remediating issues.
Assess Risk Tolerance
Risk is a part of business and navigating cybersecurity. Companies must understand how much risk they will accept when investing in security measures. While company leaders may have a sense of risk tolerance, it is beneficial to articulate tolerance to better inform strategy and decision-making.
Even the slightest disruption or downtime can have devastating, potentially life-threatening effects in mining, and articulating risk tolerance should involve identifying the most critical areas.
Make a Distinction Between Information Technology and Operational Technology
When protecting mining assets from a cyberattack, measures that work for information technology (IT) may not work for operational technology (OT).
Security measures focused on OT should prioritize uptime more than data security. These systems must be dependable and available, first and foremost. It is also a good idea to ensure they are secure so hackers cannot manipulate them. This requires the consideration of health and safety as seen through the lens of cybersecurity.
Have a Resilient System in Place
Mining operations must have a resilient system in place that is capable of identifying, containing, and mitigating an intrusion, as well as restoring operations with minimal downtime.
Resiliency starts by having ongoing visibility into critical cybersecurity metrics. Robust monitoring facilitates rapid reaction to an incident, possibly including shutting down network parts to contain an attack. Because it can be challenging to detect the alteration of certain mining data types, such as those for the degree of purity, data management systems should be built to make adulterated data easier to identify.
A resilient system should also include rapid remediation measures for compromised systems and the ability to deeply analyze a cyberattack incident. These measures can identify previously unknown vulnerabilities and the steps that can be taken to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future.
Have a Skilled Cybersecurity Team in Place
Having a skilled cybersecurity team in place is more complicated than it sounds. Every field is desperate for cybersecurity talent, and the unique challenges the mining industry poses make it even more challenging to bring in technologists with the necessary skills. The inability to have a good team in place makes the technical aspects of cybersecurity more challenging. However, it also makes it harder to keep other members of an organization up to date on best practices in the latest threats.
Cybersecurity professionals also have a significant role in maintaining compliance with regulatory standards. In addition to helping a mining company maintain compliance, cybersecurity professionals stay on top of the latest requirements and take steps to ensure that an organization meets these requirements.
As the mining industry hurtles through an era of unprecedented digitalization, robust cybersecurity measures have never been more critical. To effectively navigate the cybersecurity challenges inherent in mining technology, companies must recognize that cybersecurity cannot be a peripheral concern. It is also essential to identify critical areas for safeguarding against potential disruptions, whether in IT or OT.
In essence, navigating cybersecurity in the mining industry requires a holistic and proactive approach in the face of an ever-evolving threat landscape.
References and Further Reading
Casey, J. (2021 December 6). Cybersecurity in mining: lessons to learn from the Weir attack. Mining Technology. https://www.mining-technology.com/features/cybersecurity-in-mining/?cf-view
Deloitte. (2018). An integrated approach to combat cyber risk - Securing industrial operations in mining. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/sg/Documents/energy-resources/sea-er-cyber-risk-in-mining.pdf
Georgel, F. (2022 November 9). Five imperatives when thinking about cybersecurity in mining. EY. https://www.ey.com/en_ca/cybersecurity/five-imperatives-when-thinking-about-cybersecurity-in-mining