Two-thirds of UK businesses ‘significantly concerned’ over energy-related cyber risks

Energy suppliers have been urged prioritise privacy and transparency and seek third-party assistance in an effort to strengthen cyber security during a period of disruptive technological growth, after a survey revealed that UK businesses would switch suppliers after a cyber breach.

Professional services firm PwC surveyed more than 530 UK businesses on the associated cyber risks arising from smart energy technologies and connected systems. Around two-thirds of respondents claimed to be “significantly concerned” about cyber risks, with more than half raising concerns that their client data hasn’t been secured by their energy supplier.

“Against a backdrop of technology innovation, privacy regulation, and the growing adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s perhaps not surprising that UK businesses are concerned about cyber threats,” PwC’s power and utilities leader Steve Jennings said.

“With cybercriminals able to turn off the supply tap as well as monetise data from energy firm’s customer and employee digital records, the risk is clear and cannot be ignored. It’s vital that energy suppliers gain the confidence of their customers by clearly demonstrating their ability to not only identify innovative technologies but critically to enhance their cybersecurity capabilities to respond to a range of sector specific events that could increase vulnerability.”

As more energy suppliers explore the potential of connected home technology, cyber risks pose threats to both systems management and data collection. Suppliers that fail to introduce robust security measures could well lose customers, with three in five businesses claiming they would switch supplier in the event of a cyber breach.

Analysis from BT has suggested that smart energy systems could reduce the European Union’s (EU) carbon footprint by more than 1.5Gt by 2030. Both businesses and nations are exploring innovative solutions to drive down energy usage and costs and transition to a low-carbon economy.

The growth of smart energy can be coupled with distributed generation and storage through batteries, electric vehicles (EVs) and systems controls, all of which provide new avenues for external cyber-attacks, PwC notes.

Through connected systems, hackers can obtain customer data just by focusing on a few select targets. Since 2016, PwC has been working with UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and uncovered a global hacking group (APT10), which would masquerade as government entities to gain access to data and systems by targetting selected data areas.

Secure systems

While businesses have been urged to explore the potential of smart technology – a separate PwC survey found that a third of industrial firms intend to invest more than £1m in distributed energy solutions by 2022 – PwC has warned them to match new systems with security measures.

Specifically, PwC’s cyber specialist Niko Kalfigkopoulos suggests that energy suppliers review how data breaches are managed, with a focus on the incoming General Data Protection Regulation requirements for timely reporting of data privacy incidents.

Kalfigkopoulos also claimed that suppliers using cloud services should seek third-party assurances for risk management of customer data and that transparency and privacy should be central to new business strategies. Finally, suppliers were recommended to push for industry standards for assured products, to reduce the risk of being left at fault if customers add “unapproved” devices to a network.

Both the World Energy Council (WEC) and financial giant Allianz have published research in recent months, warning that the changing technological landscape would increase exposure to cyber-related attacks.

PwC’s recent CEO survey mirrored these concerns, whereby 1,400 chief executives ranked cyber risks as a higher threat than the speed of current technological changes.

As part of edie’s sustainability megatrends series, PwC’s sustainability and climate change partner Celine Herweijer explored what technologies would be at the heart of the fourth Industrial Revolution, and how they would create business opportunities.

Matt Mace

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