Infrastructure solutions company BT says mineral processing companies are starting to prioritise efforts against cyberattacks on process control solutions.
BT Asia, Middle East and Africa energy and research head Stephen du Preez tells Mining Weekly that a targeted attack can cripple or even shut down a mineral processing operation.
An example of this is the Struxnet virus, which was a targeted attack on nuclear centrifuges in Iran, in 2010 that took control of high-value assets responsible for controlling the operation.
He explains that criminals can lock computers remotely, using a cyberattack strategy called ransomware, by hacking the computers that control the mineral processing plants, preventing companies from being able to control the process. Then the hackers demand money from companies in exchange for an unlock code that enables them to reclaim control of their computers.
The problem is that, while the machine is in a locked state, the plant operators are unable to start, stop or control the process.
A proper cybersecurity strategy can address this risk and block, for example, ransomware from gaining access to computers that run the process control software.
“Focusing your cybersecurity investment on your most valuable assets and deploying the right technology for their protection, can ensure a focused approach to prohibit cyberattacks,” notes Du Preez.
BT offers cybersecurity capability, which includes a methodology for clients to determine the most critical assets in the processing plant; the equipment that generates the most revenue or the areas which can do the most reputational damage if they are attacked.
This ensures a targeted investment for securing those assets, as well as a roadmap to advise on general security capability across the entire operation.
Du Preez says cyber- attacks are becoming more common, owing to people targeting energy and resources companies for ransom purposes and attempting to gain access to information which is valuable to competitors, which also has the potential to expose suppliers and customers of mining or mineral processing companies’ confidential information.
Therefore, it leaves mines or mineral processing plants no other choice but to pay the price if proper cyber protection strategies are not in place.
Du Preez points out that mineral processing opera- tions are evolving to include the use of Big Data to enable increased efficiencies and improved decision-making.
“Data is an asset that can be valuable to an organisation once it is converted into action-driving information.”
He adds that data drives decision-making, whether it is around preventing unwanted safety or production incidents or to improve production efficiency.
“People are starting to realise that better data management and control, and being able to con- textualise this data against other data and present it to management in a way that allows more effective decision-making is critical to driving operational performance.”
However, one of the challenges faced with regard to taking advantage of Big Data’s benefits is a lack of skills. To harness the benefits that Big Data offers, you need to have metallurgists or chemical engineers that understand the process and its chemistry, as well as have experience with data science and converting data into information.
“For organisations to effectively manage strate- gies, such as centralisation of skills and leveraging automated solutions, they need a central network that covers all the necessary points that generate data; from shop floor to top floor,” highlights Du Preez.
He concludes that BT enables companies to leverage Big Data and analytics to visualise information, which helps management improve its understanding of how an operation functions and identifies trends, threats and vulnerabilities.