19 June 2019

South Africa: SA Mining Sector Needs Defence Against Cyber Threats

Johannesburg — SOUTH African mining companies risk crippling shutdowns and threats to human safety if they fail to adequately protect their infrastructure against cyber-attacks.

The warning by a technology executive comes as mining operations are set to embrace next-generation automation and industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) systems to slash costs and increase production.

Mike Bergen, South African representative of the French-headquartered technology consulting and digital transformation firm, GECI, noted mines were now adopting IIoT and intelligent automation across the entire pit-to-port chain, from autonomous vehicles to robotic drilling.

All these new technologies are connected.

Bergen said unless this new smart mine environment was built on a foundation of industry-specific cyber security, mines risked financial losses, threats to human health and safety and even complete shutdown.

"With margins as tight as they are, no mine can afford this risk," Bergen said.

His sentiments corroborate findings by Ernst and Young (EY) that 54 percent of mining companies experienced a significant cyber incident in the past 12 months.

Michael Rundus, EY Global Mining and Metals Cyber Security Leader, confirmed the prevalence.

EY lists cyber risk among the top five business risks facing mining and metals industry.

Nyrstar, the Swiss/Belgian mining and metals processor early this year shut down parts of its IT systems across its operations.

Norsk Hydro, international aluminium, hydro and solar power firm, fell victim to a cyber-attack that crippled its computer networks in March this year.

Bergen said as mining operations embraced digitisation and IIoT to optimise their processes, they were increasingly opening themselves up to the risk of attack by cyber criminals, activists, and even possibly competitors or national enemies.

"So, automation is a double-edged sword, and mines need to make cyber security a top priority," he concluded.

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