Energy sector CIOs and their information technology (IT) teams, working on everything from brownfield oil and gas projects to greenfield solar renewables, are leveraging internet of things (IoT) technologies. Their purpose is to enable their digital transformation journey. Driven by a need to improve operational excellence and achieve business growth, digitalization is placing increased pressure on both the IT and operational technology (OT) departments. In turn, this is creating a situation characterized by increased cyber risk for the business.
Because of the critical nature of the services they provide and the high number of entry points along the energy value chain, energy companies are an obvious target for cyberattacks. Accenture’s Cyber Threatscape report, published in 2018, asserted that two-thirds of oil and gas IT managers believe digitization has made them more vulnerable to security compromises.
One key danger here is that, because of the concerns around the potential consequences of a cyberattack, energy companies will possibly fall behind the curve, delaying their moves to take full advantage of IoT. A survey of executives leading the energy sector, conducted by the international legal practice team at Osborne Clarke, said that 74% of the respondents say data security and privacy concerns is hindering IoT and the adoption of 5G networks in the energy sector.
Asavie, a Dublin-based technology enterprise, believes that energy companies should be able to reap the benefits of IoT without the risk of being exposed to cyberthreats as a result of the greater interconnectivity between devices and applications on the energy value chain.
The following examples — drawn from both the oil and gas and the renewables sectors — help to demonstrate how Asavie is working to help companies deliver on their digitalization objectives. Their approach is simple: taking critical infrastructural assets out of the line of cyberattacks and moving them off the public internet.
Oil and Gas
San Antonio-based Howard Energy Partners is an independent midstream energy company with assets in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Mexico. The main challenge facing the IT team was the need to protect their mission critical routers from the potential of attacks, while ensuring that they could optimize how they managed software update and security patching of these devices in a cost-effective manner.
With Asavie, they moved all data traffic off the public internet to shield remote field devices and data from the rising threat of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), malware, and ransomware attacks. They also leveraged the cellular connectivity backbone to enable secure remote connection to the network gateway and the IoT devices behind it to perform remote patch updates. This solution addresses the challenge of ensuring that the network team is able to quickly and cost-effectively manage a dispersed network of monitoring equipment without costly truck-rolls.
Chris Isbell, field communications coordinator with Howard, said, “Asavie allowed us to immediately take our estate of IoT monitoring devices out of the line of fire and simplify the process for performing security patch updates through a single command-and-control console.”
European energy storage solutions startup, Solo Energy, has launched a system using IoT technology to manage a network of energy storage units that it supplies to power-generating customers in far-reaching places.
Solo Energy provides its batteries at power-generating sites throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom, and the IoT technology enables Solo to manage the operation of each battery at every site, no matter where it is located. Asavie provides the private connectivity, ensuring the batteries are not exposed to the public internet, enabling secure data transfer and remote access capabilities for the Solo Energy cloud-management platform.
Solo CTO, Liam Breathnach, said, “Asavie’s approach to secure connectivity aligns with our energy-storage-as-service model. Their service facilitates rapid deployment, provides us with the ability to scale easily and helps us to keep our costs low, making it easier to say yes to the smart grid of the future.”
As the digital ambitions of energy companies intensify, the demand for increased connectivity to remote field assets and the priority assigned to their IoT projects will continue to grow. Given the critical nature of the networked energy infrastructure to global economies, it is important that CIOs and IT/OT teams of companies are aware of the significant dangers posed by malicious actors and what are the services available to them to remediate against these threats.