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Protecting Your Infrastructure for the Future

By Justin Ellis 

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Whilst an international energy crisis is unlikely to occur in the immediate future, there are warning signs that we should plan for. Our energy network is more reliant than ever on technology and this increasing reliance also means that we can expect a greater number of more advanced threats to our ability to power our homes and businesses in future.

If we simply choose to ignore all these threats, under the assumption that someone else will design a solution to protect our vital systems, the resulting damage could easily change our way of life completely. It is important that we understand which technology is available to help us and under what circumstances it can provide the adequate level of protection for our crucial systems.

Many of us will remember the last time the UK had consistent difficulties with its energy supplies in the 1970s, resulting in frequent power cuts across the country. With that in mind, it is crucial that we take the time to review the technology we have come to rely on and whether or not we are inviting threats into our homes and businesses. Here, Justin Ellis, Senior Data Centre Specialist at complete network supplier Comms Express, discusses in more detail.


How to Protect Our Networks
Our electricity network is controlled by a series of computers, and as a result they can be threatened in all the same ways that any other computer might be. For that reason, it is important that we don’t just innovate when it comes to IT security, but that we also take the time to educate people in the role they can play in ensuring our energy security moving forwards.

Two strong examples of this can be found in common misconceptions about widely used IT security devices. Take UPS technology, for instance: most people simply don’t know it exists, and many others believe that installing it means that your network will simply continue to run forever – even through a power cut lasting for hours or days. A similar misconception about surge protection leads a lot of people to believe that it would guard against a spike or even a direct lightning hit, when in reality the devices will only definitively protect you in the event of a much smaller surge.

It is important for people to begin to understand these technologies, as they may allow governments, businesses and individuals to put more effective plans and strategies in place that will successfully protect their systems from damage. From a system as important as a life support machine to one – at the other end of the spectrum – that’s used for playing Minecraft, the knowledge that you need to protect yourself remains the same. A basic understanding of the need to a) protect systems adequately and b) shut them down in the right way needs to become everyday knowledge for anyone responsible for technology and its uses in a business.


Vulnerabilities in our Existing Technology
Whilst no technology provides us with an entirely impregnable defence, by using the right technology at the right time, we can provide safeguards for the most crucial and life-saving capabilities. In doing so, we then ensure that relatively minor crises aren’t wiping out our technological capabilities far too easily.

That need for protection starts at an end-user level and runs all the way up to the protection and maintenance of the national grid. The increasing level of threats overall means we need to be more careful than simply installing an anti-virus package up and forgetting all about ICT security. It’s not even just our computers and telephones any more, we now have computers installed in our watches, lights and white goods.


More Devices, More Problems
We are seeing a huge increase in demand for smart devices, from voice assistants to lightbulbs and from washing machines to smartphones. This could provide hackers with a huge range of opportunities to attack our electricity supply. Antivirus software has never been so important, and in the future, it is highly likely that we will see increasing demand for more robust defence solutions for all our smart devices.

However, this demand has caused a security problem as it has resulted in a gold rush to become the go-to platform for the Internet of Things (IOT). With so many devices available from so many suppliers, each gadget could provide an access point and thus be seen as a potential weakness in our systems.

From a security perspective it would be simper if one or two companies were to gain control of the market as control hubs for IOT devices across the board. An outright winner would mean that security companies could focus their time and resources on one operating system, ensuring that every device connected to it were secure. It could equally be argued that an outright winner would also be easier to target, meaning that the effects of a successful attack would be all the more devastating.


The Future Relies on Our Capacity to Innovate Today
In the future, it is likely that one or two of the current front runners will begin to dominate the market, but for now, security innovators will have to spread their resources between systems. Another misconception that we need to be aware of is the fact that people assume that when a device we love ‘just works’, because it has been designed well for ease of use, it is also well protected. When in reality, the easier something is to use, the warier you should be of the security compromises that were made. Two-Factor authentication is a great example of this, we know that we can make a device easier to use if we remove it, but in doing so we would remove the additional security it provides. This kind of compromise is one that hardware (and even software) developers are having to make in order to compete, and more often than not, it is security rather than ease of use that is cut first.

Whilst we cannot definitively predict what the future will bring, we can try to identify the threats and innovate against them, avoiding scenarios like those we experienced in the 1970s. Whilst the huge increase in smart devices is incredibly exciting, we need to remember that with great power comes great responsibility (and a significant responsibility to protect that power supply!).

It is important for innovators to be allowed to design new and exciting technology and for energy companies to continue to invest in protecting our energy supply, however, there is an important role to be played on an individual level, too. Whether we believe our actions present a bigger risk to our own technology use alone or to the wider network, we need to take responsibility and install and maintain protection as and when it becomes available to us.

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Justin Ellis at Comms Express