Mining companies operating in Africa are increasing their investment in new security technologies, and are procuring services that help them to refine security strategies and security implementation, diversified mining and exploration company Emiral Resources founder Boris Ivanov tells Mining Weekly.
“This will enable companies to foresee threats and react more quickly and accurately.”
He explains that mine security needs to be based on bespoke solutions that consider each mine’s specific conditions, including geography, climate data, local culture and communities, socioeconomic considerations, crime rates and political stability. This will enable mining operators to assess probable dangers and devise effective strategies.
Ivanov notes that there is increased investment in automation and technological solutions that can reconfigure processes to reduce the amount of labour required in high-risk zones.
Additionally, access control systems that are linked to human resource software to share staff data – such as drug, alcohol, and blood testing results – are also becoming more commonplace.
Field devices, many of which are mobile, can digitally monitor site areas and alert security officers to any risks or perimeter violations.
Solutions, such as automated gates and turnstiles or pan-tilt-zoom cameras for remote visual verification through one control room are also growing in popularity.
Emerging technologies, such as advanced global positioning systems, embedded logic, smart sensors, Big Data-based simulations and three-dimensional visualisations, are also being used to tighten mine security strategies and prepare for an increasingly digitised future.
“For high-value commodities, such as gold and diamonds, there is an added risk when it attracts the attention of diverse armed groups that operate in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger and who can use these commodities as alternative currencies in money-laundering schemes and terror financing,” Ivanov notes, adding that such activity risks fuelling further violence in the affected regions.
To prevent further conflict, affected governments need to establish their presence in mining areas either directly or through allied collaborations.
Subregional and international mechanisms could also help to reduce covert gold and diamond exports and reduce the risk of these trade flows financing militancy and terrorism.
Ivanov believes that the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate the risk of further conflict and instability in Africa, as governments seek to respond to the virus and prevent living conditions from worsening, poverty increasing, and industries and economies deteriorating.
“Mining companies should continue to operate only where they can do so safely and by having all appropriate health measures in place. This includes strict quarantine measures to prevent outbreaks at mining sites to not only protect operations and output but also minimise the impact on the local community, from which many of the employees emanate.”
He believes that, with the security situation in various parts of Africa unlikely to improve anytime soon, and with numerous countries waiting for vaccine aid, mining companies will have to be prepared to continue operating in an environment of uncertainty for the foreseeable future.
New Technology and Cybercrime
The outbreak of the pandemic has encouraged companies worldwide to implement remote work arrangements, where possible, and integrate, digitise and share network systems to maximise efficiencies.
However, increased reliance on digitised equipment means increased cyber risk, with cyberattacks becoming increasingly more sophisticated and frequent.
Cyber risk is compounded by the emerging complexities and convergence between operational technology and information technology as mining companies shift to digitalisation and automation.
“While it may yet be less of a local challenge in African nations, there are plenty of criminal actors based elsewhere in the world that are motivated by financial gain, as well as nation State actors, political ‘hacktivists’ or disgruntled employees or business partners,” Ivanov explains.
The same tools that help to run mining infrastructure more efficiently and support remote operations are potential points of exposure for cyberattacks.
In response to this risk, mining companies are taking the necessary steps to build resilience based on the implementation of enhanced data encryption, smart validation and authentication systems between sensors and gateways and secure access management.
“This will ensure that corporate networks and systems are secure and can defend themselves against cyberthreats,” Ivanov says.
The impact of such threats can be severe. A breach can disrupt operations, put employees at risk, disclose confidential information, damage a company’s reputation and generate substantial financial and legal difficulties. It can also lead to the catastrophic shutdown of critical infrastructure and even to the loss of life, he adds.
Ivanov says that, firstly, mining companies must invest in technical defences such as email filtering and antivirus software.
“Employees are often the primary targets for hackers looking to infiltrate critical business systems, as they hold vast amounts of data, including extensive customer data, thereby exposing companies to phishing attacks.”
As such, companies need to invest in education and run ongoing training programmes to help reduce cyber risk and prepare employees to be cyber resilient.
“Not every mining company has the skills or technology capabilities to ensure that an Internet of Things solution is secure from end-to-end. Therefore, mining companies in Africa should look to collaborate with specialist providers to ensure that they are secure,” Ivanov concludes.