Engineering-based industries are often not very good at cyber security

Olexander Hryb, the Event Producer at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, met Robert Hannigan, former Director of GCHQ and Executive Chairman of BlueVoyant cybersecurity, to talk about the main cyber security threats today and what we can do about them.

The UK’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy published a report in November 2018 saying that UK’s national critical infrastructure (CNI) is not sufficiently protected from cyber threats, so how would you describe the severity of hostile nation-state actors’ offensive intent?

On the one hand, we shouldn’t panic about nation-state attacks – they are not the biggest problem in cybersecurity. But it is true that the US and UK Governments have, over the last couple of years, published details of nation-state attacks against our critical national infrastructure.

The biggest problem is if a nation-state is going to do hostile things, it’s going to choose our critical national infrastructure; it’s going to choose our utilities and energy sector and transport. Those are the kinds of sectors they will go for, and we have indeed found them on some of those networks.

What would be your message to the asset owners of private CNI?

There are two main messages: one is to change the culture in your organization around cybersecurity; to try to do for cyber what has been done so successfully for health and safety, for example, over the last ten years – to get everybody to take it seriously; to take the risk management process seriously and drive that down through the organization.

The other thing is to understand the supply chain, which is difficult.

What would be your message to the cyber defense community?

I think UK defense has things to learn from the private sector on cybersecurity, and it has things to teach. UK defense has a key role in our broad defense, and that includes cyber. But it has a long way to go on developing the skills it needs; a lot of those skills are out in the private sector.

What can professional Institutions, including the IET, do to better facilitate cyber defense, considering existing cyber skills shortage and general public cyber hygiene ignorance?

I think the IET and other institutions can do really important work in increasing the pipeline of talent through education, and we need a new generation of cybersecurity experts. It can help raise awareness.

But particularly in the engineering community, it’s always surprising that engineering-based industries are often not very good at cybersecurity, for a whole range of reasons. But the IET, as a professional body representing engineers, can do a great deal to raise that awareness in the engineering community.

Why you are looking forward to attending the IET’s Cyber Security for Industrial Control Systems conference?

The main reason to attend is to share experiences. How do you change the culture in a large organization’s running the CNI in this country? What’s the best practice? What’s the experience been – failures and successes – in doing that?

It’s a great way to network with other people; we’re all facing the same threats and the same problems, and some people have got further towards the solutions than others. It’s a great chance to share that.

About the Author

Robert Hannigan will be giving a keynote talk at Cyber Security for Industrial Control Systems, taking place in London on 7 – 8 February 2019. The conference will also include talks from the RAF, Thales, Atkins, Michigan Technological University, Pen Test Partners and the UK’s Ministry of Defense. You can see the conference programme and book your ticket at

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