With the number of cases of Covid-19 in the UK now increasing at a dramatic rate, all sectors and businesses are looking at how they can safeguard staff while ensuring the smooth operation of their business. This is especially so for utility companies who are updating their continuity plans to minimise risk to the workforce at the same time as maintaining uninterrupted supply to customers.

The link between the Coronavirus and utility companies may not be obvious, but experts claim the virus will pose significant threat to cybersecurity and the operational effectiveness of utility firms and other mission-critical industries.

The first threat lack of manpower. The energy sector relies heavily on its people to operate machinery, monitor systems and protect IT infrastructure. If enough operation centre staff fall ill, and are unable to work, security could be weakened.

The second threat comes from cyber criminals. As more employees work remotely to limit the virus spread, companies must enhance their IT security to ensure their networks are not vulnerable to cyber criminals. Malicious cyber actors, and seasoned hackers, will likely look to take advantage of the panic and use “coronavirus-themed opportunistic attacks” to gather sensitive information from users in order to infiltrate the networks of energy and utilities companies and gain access to their critical infrastructure. As the large majority of businesses switch to a work-from-home model, but still need to give their users remote-access to critical computers, organizations need to be sure that hackers cannot use an unsecure home network to find an easier attack path into the systems.

The third threat relates to the functionality and productivity of the operation centre. As the pandemic worsens, and countries enforce mass isolation policies, utility companies face a mass shortage of staff being able to work in the operation centre. When staffing levels suddenly drop, energy companies still need to ensure that operators have immediate access to remote resources in order to continue the supply of energy to local communities.

In the wake of Covid-19, utility providers are prioritising the continued function of countless varied operations which require diligence, security and flexibility. Many providers face the common challenge of requiring instant remote-access to their critical systems. While there is no doubt that remote-access software is the easiest and cheapest option to serve users, it does not deliver the functionality or level of IT security required in these mission-critical operations.

Utility companies must prepare themselves for lengthy periods of unrest, where staff shortages could be prevalent and those who are not affected could be forced to operate remotely. Users must be able to access critical computers that live within networks that cannot be exposed to an outside network. Many of the fundamental systems used in utility plants are housed in ‘closed boxes’ that do not permit access to the operating system to download and install software. And of course, at critical times, there are teams who will need BIOS-level access to maintain, and potentially reboot, systems in order to maximize operational effectiveness.

All these challenges are addressed with hardware-based remote-access products such as the ADDERLink™ ipeps range. This range provides users with instantaneous and secure LAN/WAN access to distributed critical computers. Using RealVNC® client software, computers outside the network can be remotely and securely accessed. They do not require any software to be installed on the computer or for the computer itself to be exposed to a public network; dramatically reducing the external security threat.

For more information on the ADDERLink ipeps range, contact AIT