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From Lights On to Networks On: New Implications on Security, Safety and Environmental Sustainability for the Connected World

2020-01-13  |  5 min read 

Simply having lights on when it's dark has become a fundamental human expectation since electricity first started lighting homes in the late 1800s. Since then, efficiently heated homes and safe, free-flowing drinking water are matched by the expectation of 24x7 internet access and mobile phone service. In addition, as next-generation environmentally sustainable technologies are released, new expectations will be formed, such as broad access to electronic vehicle charging, alerts about air quality issues, access to updated transportation options in real-time through smart-city applications, and the ability to modulate agricultural watering systems in support of natural resource conservation. Sadly, such continued expectations may not be aligned with reality as ever-increasing demands and interconnectivity put pressure on traditional, and aging, Operational Technology (OT) network infrastructures. Issues with any one OT network has consequences but impacts today can have exponential ripple effects on community services.  

Take for example the days-long power outages that affected multiple regions of the U.S. in 2019. Some were planned as part of a crisis aversion program, such as the potential for wildfires due to winds downing powerlines in dry and forested areas. Others were unexpected as a result of power overload due to high temperatures driving increased air conditioning and refrigeration, or downed powerlines from fallen trees in inclement weather. Regardless of the reason, the service disruption caused chaos across affected communities. It became evident quickly that human dependency on the electric grid goes far beyond just keeping the lights on.

With today’s connected infrastructures, the electric outages of 2019 were felt broadly: limited or slow cellular networks and internet access resulted in loss of critical crisis management communication tools; electric energy appliances couldn’t operate to disperse home heating in cold climates; water management systems that relied on electric energy were stretched to provide clean water; and connected healthcare devices stopped working when batteries were depleted or network access was lost. Hospitals moved to crisis mode and companies lost significant business during the outages. 

I should mention that none of these power outage cases were reportedly due to a security breach in any infrastructure. But there is a real threat to these OT networks that form the backbone of modern society. Delivering critical infrastructure services -- such as electricity, energy, water and transportation – provides a means to inflict significant economic damage and public harm through OT network attacks.

As these traditional workhorse networks age and become ever-more connected, and thus more vulnerable to cyberattacks and nefarious access, disruptions will heighten community impact. With such networks connecting millions of people worldwide, even the smallest issue or security breach could result in catastrophic affects to human health and security.

To help mitigate such risks, while supporting expansion of environmentally sustainable technologies, it is imperative to ensure current networks perform as expected, new service expansions are designed and delivered with high quality, and the interconnectivity between infrastructures is fully vetted and tested. Keysight helps support these efforts by providing solutions that test performance, validate security, and monitor deployments of these critical, connected infrastructures. We also partner with other companies, such as the recently announced collaboration with Nozomi  Networks -- the leader in industrial cyber security and operational visibility -- to deliver a joint solution that enables OT network operators to identify and defend against cyberattacks to critical infrastructure services.

While growing pains are expected as the world drives toward improved, more environmentally-friendly infrastructure technologies, I am glad to see Keysight doing its part by providing the solutions needed to ensure quality network deployments that support public health, security, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity – in addition to keeping the lights on!