Justin Ellis, senior data centre specialist at Comms Express outlines the importance of not only protecting, but understanding our technology in order to ensure it remains secure.
Whilst an international energy crisis is unlikely to occur in the immediate future, there are warning signs that we should be prepared to innovate. If we simply choose to ignore that these problems exist at all, the resulting damage could easily change our way of life completely.
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. Whilst most businesses or consumers could do little to protect the country against a nationwide problem like this, there is certainly more we can do to protect ourselves and the technology we use in our everyday lives.
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.
Protecting our systems
Our electricity network is controlled by a series of computers, and they can be threatened in just about every way 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: many people don’t know it exists, and others believe that installing it means that your network will simply continue running forever – even through a power cut lasting for 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.
It is important for people to begin to understand these technologies, as they may allow governments, businesses and individuals to protect their systems from damage more successfully.
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 is equally important. 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, just like the need to brush your teeth twice a day!
Whilst no technology provides us with an entirely impregnable defence, by using the right technology at the right time, we can ensure that we maintain crucial and life-saving capabilities as a society. That need for protection starts at an individual level and runs all the way up to the protection and maintenance of the national grid.
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 in future. 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.
Whilst innovation would benefit from a range of organisations engaging in healthy competition with each other, from a security perspective it would be simper if one or two companies were to gain control of the market. 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.
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.
Whilst we cannot definitively predict what the future will bring, we can try to identify the threats and innovate against them so that we can avoid 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!)
Whilst 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, 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.