Blog post

Cyber Security meet Engineering, Engineering meet Cyber Security…

Created:  20 Sep 2017
Updated:  20 Sep 2017
Author:  Helen L
Casablanca

Reading this year’s 'State Of The Nation' report (PDF) it struck me that civil engineering, like many kinds of engineering, is driven by the fundamental vision to make peoples’ lives better.

New digital technologies help this by advancing functionality and enabling better ways of working. But they also introduce new vulnerabilities, and it’s important that we reduce the harm that might arise if these vulnerabilities are exploited. It doesn’t matter if harm arises from a safety flaw in a construction, a legal loophole in a process, a cyber security issue or a combination of factors - we’re all trying to achieve the same thing; to build a resilient system. Tackling this problem independently can't ever be as effective as taking a holistic approach.

 

Collaboration is crucial

Communication across different disciplines isn't always easy. Our perspectives and language differ - as you'd expect - because they've evolved independently around our respective 'technologies'. Take your 'caissons' and 'BIM', and our 'TCP/IP stacks' and 'APTs' (exactly!). But as our two worlds become more connected, we've both realised that concentrating solely on technical aspects is no longer enough. We need to work out how to collaborate more effectively and concentrate less on outputs for us, and more on outcomes for people.

For this reason, cyber security shouldn't exist as a separate 'IT' thing, or 'somebody else's problem'. It must be integrated into the engineering process, not bolted-on later as an afterthought. Consider the relative longevity of construction/ infrastructure systems and their building design information (i.e. the BIM data). Once we take into account planning, construction, commissioning, handover stages and then the post-completion warranty period; the common data environment (CDE) may need to remain in service for up to 20 years, and some of the data in the CDE will need to be accessible for the lifetime of the built asset (say 60+ years). How people will use and interact with the building, and therefore how this data is stored, protected and accessed by all the different parts of the supply chain will evolve significantly during this time. An excellent starting point towards adopting a more security-minded approach is the guidance on 'Digital build assets and environments' produced by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI). It includes a link to and more information about the specification for security-minded building information modelling, digital built environments and smart asset management: PAS 1192-5.

Considering how this approach is supported by the engineering process to achieve the right level of resilience now and in the future will require a more collaborative effort than we have ever seen before. Cyber security needs to be part of the conversations from the start. At the NCSC we understand that cyber security is a complex topic, and that these conversations will probably involve more questions than answers to begin with. As part of realising our vision of making the UK the safest place to live and do business online, we need to break through some of the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt that commonly dominates the narrative.

 

Cyber security research in practice

The NCSC carries out a lot of research. That’s because we want our outputs to be evidence based, not best guesses. We want the things we do and say to really make a difference to people, so we know we need to understand the social and behavioural aspects of our customers as well as their technical concerns. To do this we formed a new Sociotechnical Security Group (StSG) in January last year. The group's research topics are spread across across three main themes: peoplerisk and engineering processes (which I lead), and you can find out more about each of these in the StSG Infographic.

At the moment, having confidence that engineering processes adequately consider cyber security beyond compliance is really difficult. Our research needs to support engineers from all disciplines to navigate through a whole-life model of security and assurance: embracing both a risk-based and people-centred approach rather than simply a 'tick-box' exercise. Our outputs need to enable you to identify and cost-effectively address the foundational building blocks of your engineering process to gain confidence that what you're building is secure enough for the business’s needs. But we also want to ensure we produce something that talks in a language that everyone can relate to, not just cyber security experts.

The NCSC launched in October 2016 to become the UK's authority on cyber security: our launch video will tell you more about our mission, and our twitter feed (@ncsc) and blog space will give you an insight into the things we’re working on. On the 13th October at the ICE’s Shaping a Digital World event, the NCSC will be talking more about our sociotechnical research: I hope it will be the start of some meaningful conversations about how cyber security can help to make peoples’ lives better.”

 

Helen L

Engineering Processes & Assurance Lead,

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