Unpacking the channel’s role in securing Australia’s utilities
By Bryan Stibbard, Director – Channels and Alliances AN/Z at Palo Alto Networks
The recent electricity market wobbles have unveiled a level of fragility among some of Australia’s largest utility operators that have surprised many, but this is nothing compared to the potential problems presented by the cyber threat landscape.
Operators of utilities and other critical infrastructure around the world have increasingly been targeted by malicious actors, and Australia is not immune from this trend.
As recently as April this year, the cybersecurity authorities of Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand and the UK advised critical infrastructure organisations to implement immediate measures to protect against Russian state-sponsored and criminal cyber threats as the war in Ukraine raged.
Not only have such threats demonstrated the rising role that so-called Industry 4.0 technology is playing in the lives of the country and its people, they have also opened a new door of opportunity for channel partners in the local market.
It’s no secret that cyber security has quickly become a big ticket item for channel partners around the country. Over the past two years many managed service providers (MSPs) have found themselves building out managed security services in addition to their core offering in order to meet evolving customer demand in this area.
With the emergence of Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution, marked by the incorporation of connected ‘smart’ equipment – even more opportunities are emerging for partners willing to embrace cyber security as a source of growth for their businesses.
There are legitimate security challenges resulting from the rise of Industry 4.0 technology in industry. Industry 4.0 businesses are highly automated, digital first businesses.
This means any disruption to their digital systems, especially from a cyber incident, can have a material impact to the organisation as a whole.
Operational technology (OT), meanwhile, is critical to Industry 4.0 organisations. Ensuring that OT environments are segregated from IT environments, and that threat inspection is in place to protect OT, is critical.
The threat landscape is also changing. Ransomware incidents are increasing and nation state attacks are increasingly targeting critical infrastructure.
But organisations making use of Industry 4.0 technology are taking substantial steps to protect themselves.
For example, one of Palo Alto Networks’ local customers is SA Power Networks. As the South Australian electricity infrastructure provider modernises itself and its systems, it is actively working through the cyber security implications of increased digitisation. This is being achieved through partnership with external cyber experts.
Industry 4.0 is horizontally disrupting most industry sectors, not just critical infrastructure, and transforming their businesses. However, the same risks apply, regardless of the sector. For channel partners choosing to turn their security focus to the critical infrastructure market, this trend represents a new landscape of potential business.
Partners looking to tap into the critical infrastructure market and address the cyber issues arising from the growth of Industry 4.0 more generally will want to focus on a few core areas to get a foothold in the segment.
Internet of Things (IoT) security is an essential area of specialisation, given that Industry 4.0 is steeped in IoT. Moreover, cloud technology is increasingly essential for Industry 4.0 organisations to store and process their surging masses of data.
With this in mind, expertise around cloud, multi-cloud and hybrid cloud security is vital. Fortunately, for many MSPs, this should not be a stretch.
Along with implementing solutions that can provide continuous visibility of IoT systems, whether within the corporate environment or in the industrial and operational environment, partners should also employ next-generation firewalls to segregate core IT business systems from OT and IoT systems.
With ransomware such a major risk today, many Industry 4.0 organisations will have top-of-mind concerns in this area. A good starting point for partners wanting to address such concerns is to first understand the threat and accurately assess the organisation’s preparedness to meet that threat.
Many of our partners will have developed some form of ransomware readiness assessment. This helps the process a lot. If partners implement a ransomware readiness assessment, they can immediately help customers strengthen the process and technologies that can protect their systems.
This process would typically include developing a ransomware prevention playbook to help customers plan, prevent and respond to threats.
At the same time, partners should try to ensure their customers are getting maximum preventative value from their existing security technologies. What better time for a partner to re-engage with their install base and help it to reduce its collective attack surface or automate its combined defences?
The opportunity here for partners is to help devise a strategy for remediation and strengthening the defence of existing or new customers in a way that’s right for them, at an individual level.
This is just one way among many to approach the potential opportunities coming from the critical infrastructure market and beyond. As long as the core Industry 4.0 areas of focus are kept in mind, partners are in a prime position to give the country’s utilities one less thing to worry about.