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Environmental Resilience and Cybersecurity

What can be done to protect essential technologies that combat environmental challenges?
Environmental Resilience and Cybersecurity

This year’s World Environment Day focuses on desertification, land degradation, and drought resilience, highlighting the critical need for environmental resilience and cybersecurity. As we confront these pressing environmental challenges, the role of cybersecurity in maintaining the integrity of our technological infrastructure becomes ever more apparent. Ensuring robust cyber resilience is not just about preventing data breaches; it is essential for sustaining the vital services that support our environmental efforts.

The Environmental Impact of Cyberattacks

Environmental resilience and cybersecurity play a crucial role in monitoring and combating environmental degradation. Advanced data analytics can predict and manage drought conditions, while remote sensing technologies can monitor land degradation. However, the effectiveness of these technologies is heavily dependent on their protection from cyber threats. Cyberattacks on critical systems can severely hinder environmental protection efforts, making cybersecurity an integral part of our strategies to address desertification and land degradation.

For instance, a cyberattack on an energy grid can lead to power outages, forcing reliance on backup generators that increase carbon emissions. Similarly, cyber disruptions in the agri-food sector can lead to food spoilage and wastage, exacerbating environmental degradation.

We covered one of the earliest examples of this phenomenon in the Certified Cyber Insurance Specialist (CCIS) course. In 2021, a cyber criminal remotely accessed the water system of a city in Florida and managed to increase the amount of the highly corrosive sodium hydroxide in the supply to a potentially dangerous level. In this instance, luckily, no one was harmed as the attack was detected and mitigated quickly. However, recent similar attacks have demonstrated increased sophistication. You can find more information about this attack in Chapter 2.3 of the CCIS course.

Current Cyber Threats to Critical Infrastructure

The U.S. government has recently issued warnings to state governors about foreign hackers targeting water and sewage systems. In a letter released in March 2024, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan highlighted disabling cyberattacks on water and wastewater systems across the United States. They identified Iranian and Chinese cyber saboteurs as primary culprits, citing incidents such as the one in Pennsylvania where hackers linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards disabled a controller at a water facility.

These attacks jeopardize the critical lifeline of clean and safe drinking water, emphasizing the importance of environmental resilience and cybersecurity.

The Cyber Insurance Challenge

The cyber insurance market has struggled to address operational technology (OT) risks effectively, which is crucial for environmental resilience and cybersecurity. Insurers often face challenges because physical systems and structures, built to last for decades, cannot keep pace with rapid software changes. Updating control systems with newer operating systems is often impossible, creating vulnerabilities. Despite these challenges, several insurers have introduced supplemental OT applications or added OT underwriting questions to better address these risks. Ensuring comprehensive coverage and addressing the specific needs of OT systems are vital steps in mitigating cyber risks.

World Environment Day 2024 brings into focus the interconnectedness of environmental resilience and cybersecurity. As we strive to combat desertification, land degradation, and drought, protecting our digital infrastructure from cyber threats becomes paramount. Ensuring robust environmental resilience and cybersecurity supports environmental sustainability by safeguarding the technologies that monitor and manage these challenges. In an era where cyber threats are ever-present, integrating cybersecurity into our environmental strategies is essential for a sustainable and secure future.

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