Armageddon
Picture credit: Tod Seelie for Wired. https://www.wired.com/2016/09/wasteland-mad-max-festival-makes-burning-man-look-lame/

You can just imagine it: Darkness reigns, armed groups prowl the streets, looting and harassing old ladies – cars burn and grubby groups of men, women and children huddle around, warming their hands and trying not to cough when the wind shifts and smoke blows into their faces.

Hospitals are filled with the moans of patients and nurses scurry around with candles or torches, intent on getting pain relief to those they can help – but supplies are running out and things are looking dire.

This is the post-apocalyptic, post cyber-attack world that has been touted as a worst-case scenario for big cities around the world.  A world in which darkness of unimaginable depths rules the night and technology comes to a grinding halt.

Yet, is it realistic?

In the past couple of days, I’ve been doing a series of interviews for our DISTRIBUTECH edition with those in the know and the consensus is mixed. Maybe the scenario posited above is a little dramatic, but could a cyberattack bring our modern-day cities to their knees?

Perhaps, for a few hours, but the overriding opinion seems to be that a Mad Max version of New York or London is unlikely – the result of a cyber-attack may be hugely frustrating, inconvenient and result in hours-long traffic jams, but the risks are far less obvious, the results less openly dramatic. 

Where the true risk lies is in the theft of data, or ongoing denial of service attacks which drive frustration levels up, and compromise personal data.

What does that mean for utilities? How do they actually assess the magnitude of the risk they face when it comes to potential cyber-attacks?

They can’t do nothing – regulation has covered that gap – but how much is enough, when do you determine that you have allocated enough budget to managing the risks and mitigating the aftermath? At what point does the expense become unsustainable – and how does that impact on consumers?

This was part of the conversation I had yesterday with two very different experts, with two divergent perspectives. Both, however, agree that the consumer ultimately will have to carry the cost of increased security, and it is here that utilities themselves will have to determine how much is enough. How they do that will be determined by their own set of unique parameters – size, location, available budget, risk profile etc etc. 

One thing that is clear, is that the management of risk for businesses – utility and otherwise – has changed. Uncertainty and unpredictability are par for the course and risk needs to be kept in perspective. When I asked one of my interviewees what the biggest threat to utilities was – his reply… 

Squirrels. 

Yes, squirrels. And thunderstorms… and overgrown vegetation. And fires… Yes, there are new challenges for utilities in 2019, but older, tangible concerns still feature at the top of the list.

Agree with what we are saying? Or think our perspective is in need of tweaking? We’d love to hear what you think. Contact us at editorial@smart-energy.com and share your thoughts.

Wishing you a risk-free week!

Claire