Theme impact

The impact of cybersecurity on the mining industry

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As cyberattacks grow in frequency and complexity, all aspects of the mining value chain are vulnerable to attack, and all areas of the cybersecurity value chain are essential to mitigate these risks. For example, at the prospecting and exploration stages, there is the risk of theft of important geological data, surveys, and mapping of economically exploitable mineral deposits. Theft can turn into extortion if money is demanded in exchange for returning information without encryption and with confidentiality intact.  

This is a lucrative target as mining companies invest billions into identifying new mine sites, and data on mineral deposits can be sold to competitors, land speculators, and financial investors with great detriment to the mining company. To protect against this targeted attack, mining companies need chip-based security to defend mission-critical servers and IoT devices collecting data. Mining companies will need to use all cybersecurity software provisions, from identity management to vulnerability management, in conjunction with hardware solutions.

Moving onto the extraction stage, another threat involves unauthorised access to automated equipment, disturbing production activity, and risking worker safety. Once again, a unified cybersecurity approach is needed with a particular focus on identity management.

The matrix below aims to help mining companies prioritise their cybersecurity investment. We suggest that they invest in technologies shaded in green as a high priority, those shaded in yellow as medium priority, and those shaded in red as low priority.

Threat detection and response (TDR) is highlighted as a high priority across all mining value chain segments. It neutralises threats before they can exploit any vulnerabilities – limiting risk to revenue and mining operations. Threats are identified by correlating threat indicators and constantly analysing the network environment and user behaviour for anything unusual. Where TDR is AI-based, it can be especially useful in preventing cyberattacks.  

Unified threat management (UTM) is also identified as a high priority due to its convenience of multiple security features in a single device within a network. This helps mining companies consolidate their IT security and monitor all threats in one place despite their physically disparate operations.

All cybersecurity services are identified as high priority due to their ease of use and maintenance alongside support available from experts for complex cybersecurity issues where there may be a cybersecurity skills shortage within the mining company itself. 

How cybersecurity helps resolve digitalization and related challenges

Digitalisation has been a slow journey for the mining industry. However, the last decade has seen the adoption of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems from vendors like SAP, Infor, and Sage, and the growing adoption of emerging technologies, such as IoT, AR, autonomous vehicles, digital twins, and even drones.  

The advent of Covid-19 further catalysed technology adoption as more mining processes were conducted remotely. At the same time, declining ore grades and continuous pressure on mining companies to identify new viable mines have pushed them to operate in more remote locations, often in developing nations. This, too, has led to more operations running remotely and thus encouraged digitalisation to bridge the physical gap between remote and on-site workers.  

Digitalisation has driven continual operational improvements in productivity, cost control, and resource development, but this has come at a cost to cybersecurity. The increased use of interconnected devices and software has made mining companies more vulnerable to cyberattacks and protecting this increased attack surface presents a significant challenge.

Digitalisation in heavy industries, such as mining, is especially at risk of cyberattacks as operational technology (OT) networks are less mature than their corporate network counterparts. Within OT networks, autonomous fleets, drone technology, equipment management systems, and the Industrial Internet are all under threat of cyberattacks with severe consequences. These could include the complete shutdown of production activity, loss of revenues, environmental harm, danger to on-site workers, and reputational damage to the mining company itself.

To combat the risks associated with OT systems, mining companies should focus on identity management policies and software to prevent unauthorised access to their systems. The identity management approach would include password management, privileged access levels, biometric identification, and multifactor authentication. 

 Alongside identity management, mining companies should regularly update their OT systems and patch specific vulnerabilities of legacy systems. This is where cybersecurity risk and compliance services can be useful, as mining companies can access independent assessments of their current cybersecurity posture and capabilities and keep up to date with any developments in the constantly evolving space of cyberthreat and regulation.

How cybersecurity helps resolve the challenge of ESG

ESG is the most important theme of this decade. This mega-theme encompasses all environmental, social, and governance impacts on business operations.

The environmental impacts of mining on climate change, pollution, biodiversity, and natural resources are regularly discussed. However, it is essential to note that the mining industry’s social and governance impacts are equally important, and cybersecurity, in particular, is a key aspect of a company’s governance. GlobalData’s ESG framework identifies risk management as a key aspect of governance and recognises that companies that manage risks and mitigate their impact are more likely to remain profitable.

From the myriad of risks identified in the framework, cybersecurity breaches are highlighted as posing a significant threat to the profitability of a company and the safety of its employees and customers, especially if personal data is targeted.  

Mining companies can face a cybersecurity breach from a host of actors, from hacktivists to nation states. Breaches can target personal employee data, payroll data, accounts payable date, production scheduling data, and pricing data, and the resultant impact can be severe, including regulatory penalties, financial losses, and reputational damage.  

For example, in the case of a cyberattack to steal pricing data, competitors (be they other mining companies or nation-states) can gain information to hijack future sales. Thus, mining companies should make preventing the unauthorised access of confidential data a priority. 

This can be achieved by adopting a host of cybersecurity hardware, software, and service provisions and, importantly, updating the company structure to place a chief information security officer (CISO) on the board. The latter move will ensure effective oversight of data security practices and keep mining companies up to date with the latest cybersecurity strategies.

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.   

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.