Standardization and Cybersecurity Go Hand in Hand

Smart communication has been a primary focus of the inaugural SPE ENGenious Symposium in Aberdeen, and, as operators develop assets that rely on intelligent and automated systems, securing the data from those assets will be key to maintaining consistent production. A panel session looked at the role communications standards might play in cybersecurity protocols, as well as the key drivers for the digital oil field.

ABB cybersecurity consultant Ben Dickinson spoke about the benefits of digitization and the main cyber threats to connected systems: ransomware threats that attack a system for financial gain; industrial espionage, such as stealing trade secrets stored within a system; a disruptive attack that has a direct effect on production; and insider damage from current and former employees, whether intentional or accidental.

Dickinson discussed mitigation strategies for each threat, such as patch management and increased training on spotting anomalies, but he also stressed that cybersecurity is a moving target. He said companies must recognize that there is no such thing as having a system that is completely immune from attack.

“You’ll never be 100% secure,” he said. “If you are 99% secure today, tomorrow that vulnerability may come out, someone may find something. So it’s a continual process. You can’t go out to a vendor and say ‘can you make me secure’ and feel comfortable with the technology that’s being used. Cybersecurity is a balance. If you make your system very secure, there’s a chance it will have an effect on production. So, it’s finding that balance and figuring out how much security you’re happy with.” 

Dickinson said that increased standardization of communication protocols could allow for a common understanding among stakeholders when crafting security initiatives. Amal Alawdah, a consultant for Siemens, echoed this sentiment, saying that standards facilitate communication, commerce, and manufacturing initiatives.

“We know that, in the digital oil field, we have different players: suppliers, vendors, operators, regulators, all different players. The need for industrialized standardization is obvious. It facilitates business interaction and sometimes speeds up production of new product to the market,” she said.

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