New research published by DNV has revealed that the energy industry is boosting its cybersecurity spending this year, as heightened geopolitical tensions and the accelerating adoption of digitally connected infrastructure have sparked concerns over the sector’s vulnerabilities to emerging cyber threats.
A majority (59%) of the 600 energy professionals surveyed by DNV say their organisation is investing more in cybersecurity in 2023 compared with last year, acknowledging that cyber attacks on the industry are a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’. Two-thirds (64%) believe that their organisation’s infrastructure is now more vulnerable to cyber threats than ever, and say that their focus on cybersecurity has intensified as a result of geopolitical tensions.
DNV’s new research report, ‘Energy Cyber Priority 2023: Closing the gap between awareness and action’, finds that the energy industry is becoming increasingly mature in its understanding of the risks. 6 in 10 industry professionals say that cybersecurity is now a regular fixture on the boardroom agenda, and most (77%) report it is treated as a business risk within their organisations. Energy professionals overwhelmingly (89%) believe cybersecurity is a pre-requisite for digital transformation initiatives essential to the future of the industry.
“Cybersecurity is critical for the energy industry, for the industry’s digital transformation and for the acceleration of the energy transition,” says Ditlev Engel, CEO, Energy Systems at DNV. “Just as governments and energy companies know they need to transition faster to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement, they also know they need to urgently step up action on cybersecurity. And the two are connected – safety and security are enablers of the clean energy technologies that need to be deployed and operated at scale in the coming decades.”
DNV’s wider Cyber Priority research explores the changing attitudes and approaches to cybersecurity in key industrial sectors, and includes a complementary report on the maritime industry: ‘Maritime Cyber Priority: Staying secure in an era of connectivity’.
Despite increased awareness, maturity and investment in cybersecurity, less than half (42%) of energy professionals say that their organisation is investing enough. Just one in three (36%) are confident their organisation has made sufficient investments in securing their operational technology (OT) – the systems that manage, monitor, automate, and control industrial operations.
Most energy professionals (78%) say geopolitical uncertainty has made their organisation more aware of the potential vulnerabilities in their OT as awareness grows about the potential for cybercriminals to cause operational shutdowns and disable safety systems.
“While energy companies accept that cybersecurity risk is on the increase, some in the industry don’t think an attack is something that will happen specifically to them, and they don’t dedicate enough budget and resources,” says Jalal Bouhdada, Global Segment Director, Cyber Security, DNV.
Energy professionals point to regulation as the factor that will most likely unlock increased budgets in their organizations, as cited by 49% of energy professionals as a top-three driver. By contrast, the next most likely catalyst for increased spending is a cyber incident (or near miss), cited by 38%.
The sector must prepare to comply with a raft of new, stricter cyber security requirements in the coming years, as authorities encourage energy businesses to increase their resilience to emerging threats. In the EU, for example, organisations providing essential services, including many in the energy sector, face tougher regulation in the form of the revised Directive on Security of Network and Information Systems (NIS2), set to be transposed into national laws in 2024. In the US, the Department of Energy is continuing to work on the National Cyber-Informed Engineering Strategy – a bi-partisan plan to raise standards.
“If you’re cyber secure, you’re very likely to comply with regulation, but the reverse isn’t always true: compliance doesn’t guarantee security,” says Bouhdada. “It takes the right mindset, company culture, and access skills to ensure regulation-driven investment translates into greater cyber resilience.”
As energy companies double down on efforts to manage the growing cyber risks facing their organizations, DNV’s research reveals that energy professionals are deeply concerned about their ability to recruit and retain the talent they need to protect them from cybersecurity threats. Lack of in-house cybersecurity skills now appears as the single most intractable barrier to cybersecurity in the industry.
Where expertise is in place, concerns are emerging that cybersecurity professionals often struggle to communicate and collaborate with operational teams who do not share their level of understanding of the risks, as well as with executives at the most senior levels of the organization. These difficulties, combined with differences in direct experience of cybersecurity, are leading to a ‘cyber-perception gap’.
Three-quarters (76%) of respondents to DNV’s survey believe that cybersecurity professionals need to get better at speaking the language of energy operations. Linked to this, the same percentage say their cybersecurity and engineering teams must learn to collaborate more effectively if the organisation is to strengthen the security of assets and infrastructure.
In ‘Energy Cyber Priority 2023’, DNV recommends energy organisations take the following actions:
- Step up efforts to enhance cyber security.
- Build cyber maturity.
- Improve communication and collaboration.
- Build capacity and unlock resources.
- Prepare for new regulation.