Utilities Middle East - - COMMENTARY -

The move to­wards au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, while tremen­dously ex­cit­ing, leaves it fac­ing its big­gest chal­lenge, says Erik Lykin, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and head of Global Data Risk, Duff & Phelps

Au­ton­o­mous elec­tric ve­hi­cles are not sim­ple ma­chines. They are com­plex pieces of kit, com­prised of a num­ber of so­phis­ti­cated parts – all of which need to com­mu­ni­cate with each other (in many cases wire­lessly). The days of sim­ple cogs and pis­tons are be­hind us.

All this com­mu­ni­ca­tion means one thing: con­nec­tiv­ity. And where con­nec­tiv­ity goes, vul­ner­a­bil­ity is never far be­hind. The ubiq­uity of the in­ter­net has led to the rise of a whole range of bad ac­tors us­ing mal­ware and hack­ing at­tacks to steal and ex­tort by ex­ploit­ing any weak­ness they can find.

And this can in­clude the threat of phys­i­cal harm. For in­stance, in the health­care sec­tor, MRI scan­ners, med­i­cal dis­pens­ing sys­tems and even in­di­vid­ual pace­mak­ers could the­o­ret­i­cally be hi­jacked for ne­far­i­ous means, with po­ten­tially ter­ri­ble con­se­quences.

But if au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles are hacked, there is po­ten­tial for harm on a huge scale. And it’s not just the phys­i­cal threat that we should be wary of.

Con­sider a sit­u­a­tion wherein a newly an­tag­o­nis­tic state had man­u­fac­tured the brak­ing sys­tems for a large num­ber of Euro­pean ve­hi­cles. And as part of this an­tag­o­nism, a state-backed hacker threat­ened to switch off these brak­ing sys­tems across the con­ti­nent. The eco­nomic con­se­quences would be mas­sive, as we ceased us­ing our cars for fear of the brakes fail­ing.

In a world where global trad­ing re­la­tions are go­ing through a frac­tious pe­riod, this isn’t an en­tirely un­re­al­is­tic propo­si­tion.

This is why the next big switch to the in­dus­try will be the move from phys­i­cal safety to se­cu­rity in all its forms.


This move is about more than just auto man­u­fac­tur­ers. The power in­dus­try will play a crit­i­cal role.

Why? Be­cause a car’s bat­tery will be the most tempt­ing tar­get for those with ill in­ten­tions.

Not only is it the very source of propul­sion that en­ables the ve­hi­cle to move, but it is also the only com­po­nent that will be hooked up to, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with, all other parts of the ve­hi­cle.

This means more op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­fec­tion, and a higher like­li­hood that once in, mal­ware can spread to other parts of the car.

This is a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion for the power sec­tor to find it­self in. And pro­tect­ing it­self will re­quire busi­nesses from across the whole elec­tric­ity value chain to em­bed se­cu­rity into ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing they do.

This is an un­prece­dented chal­lenge for the power in­dus­try.

For years, it has been able to chan­nel elec­tric­ity in one di­rec­tion to its con­sumers. But it is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing the plat­form upon which the rest of so­ci­ety is built.

Au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles and health­care ap­pli­ca­tions are just two ex­am­ples, but the In­ter­net of Things could just as eas­ily be called the In­ter­net of Power, the way in which it in­ter­sects with and de­pends upon the smart grid to fully func­tion.


This new role re­quires a new cul­ture. A cul­ture which sees ev­ery­one, from en­gi­neers to ex­ec­u­tives, look­ing up beyond mere func­tion­al­ity to en­sure that their prod­ucts and so­lu­tions are safe .

It’s not an easy ask. Cul­ture change is tricky at the best of times, but it’s even harder when tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing at this pace – and the threats are evolv­ing with it. Reg­u­la­tions aren’t keep­ing up – mak­ing it even more im­por­tant that com­pa­nies take mat­ters into their own hands to es­tab­lish ever-im­prov­ing min­i­mum stan­dards to en­sure that our power plat­form is pro­tected.

Ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing will be es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing that through­out each or­ga­ni­za­tion there is a thread of com­mon knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing about the na­ture of the threat, the im­por­tance of fight­ing back, and just how to do it.

But per­haps even more im­por­tant is to en­sure that these or­gan­i­sa­tions are talk­ing to each other – shar­ing in­for­ma­tion, in­sight and ideas from their own unique ex­pe­ri­ences. Too of­ten those faced with cy­berthreats bury their heads in the sand when in fact they should be join­ing to­gether to tackle the is­sue head-on.

That’s the think­ing be­hind con­fer­ence and ex­hi­bi­tion events, such as Elec­trify Europe, which pro­vide a plat­form for pro­fes­sion­als from across the elec­tric­ity value net­work to come to­gether and ex­change ideas .

Be­cause not only is cy­ber­se­cu­rity crit­i­cal to pro­tect­ing these busi­nesses from harm, but it is fast be­com­ing a means of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage.

Just as safety fea­tures are an im­por­tance thread run­ning through au­to­mo­tive mar­ket­ing to­day, we can ex­pect cy­ber­se­cu­rity mea­sures to do the same to­mor­row.

And so they should. Be­cause au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles are just the start. Power is set to be the plat­form our world is built on. We have to pro­tect it.

ERIK LYKIN Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor and head of Global Data Risk, Duff & Phelps

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