Cyber-security and the rush to technology

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As we speed onwards towards a technologically-advanced industrial future, are we taking unnecessary risks on cyber-security and gambling on flawed technology, asks Professor Raj Roy of Cranfield University

The ambition of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy is based on a vision of a technologically-enhanced business environment, a new digital sheen to industry. The central grand challenge is Artificial Intelligence and the data economy, the success of which underpins the other three: the future of mobility, clean growth and servicing the ageing population. Certainly, the ideas and technologies to transform manufacturing and many other areas of business activity are already there. Autonomous systems are being introduced far more widely across industry, and soon into the public realm through schemes for more autonomous transport vehicles and systems, through Unmanned Aerial Vehicle delivery services and robot health and care assistants. But to what extent does laying out new networks of digital practice open up industry to new and, as yet, little understood risks and threats from cyber-crime, cyber-terrorism and the potential for an overdependence on imperfect technologies?

Autonomous systems are dependent on communications, sharing data at high speeds between management hubs and all the individual mobile elements involved - thereby opening themselves up to cyber-attacks and industrial espionage. The issue is already a major one for static machinery. Famously in 2014, a single phishing email sent to a German steel factory led to hackers being able to stop a blast furnace from shutting down and huge physical damage to capital assets and financial costs. There is also the growing prevalence of counterfeiting, particularly in an area such as electronics.

This issue - what can be done to limit risk and fragility in the move to a new world of industry - was fundamental to the National Manufacturing Debate event on 23 May 2018 at Cranfield University, as part of the broader discussion on ‘Will the published Industrial Strategy help rebuild manufacturing in the UK?’

To what extent does laying out new networks of digital practice open up industry to new and, as yet, little understood risks?

There are many substantial, and as yet unknown, problems that need to be identified early and dealt with before any society can benefit in the ways predicted by Government. The strength of the Strategy is in its simple focus: to improve productivity. But too often productivity is seen only just in terms of human performance, in combination with the use of the latest technologies. Critically, the attention of manufacturers needs to be on the ways in which the two interact - technology operating in a messy, complex and sometimes ugly real world.

One of the practical ways we’re getting to grips with security is by creating a community of work - Atkins has sponsored a new Chair in cybersecure engineering, and an MSc in cybersecure manufacturing is recruiting for October 2018. Through-life assurance against cyber threats and counterfeits is a major challenge for secure engineering. This approach will also be critical to security in terms of making sure all systems, the machine tools, the monitoring and self-reporting, have security defences and checks designed and built into them by default.

Without this kind of debate and attention at this stage there is every possibility that the shift to more efficient, more profitable and safer approaches in manufacturing will be stalled, blocked, even reversed from breakdowns in confidence among investors, managers and the wider public.

We’re at a transformational stage in the development of the sector, stakes are high, which is why all the stakeholders involved with manufacturing need to be looking at the bigger picture, the careful foundations needed for sustainable and successful growth. At the University we’ve been sitting down with colleagues, industry and academic stakeholders to analyse what we do at Cranfield and why we do it. As a result we’re thinking in terms of our new mission as supporting ‘Engineering for Life’. That means a core research and educational purpose underpinned by four fundamental principles: through-life technology and management innovation for industrial sustainability, novel materials for wealth creation and well-being, deployable and flexible solutions for rapid response and technology for the advancement of society.

About the author


Professor Raj Roy, Director of Manufacturing, Cranfield University

Professor Roy has led competitive design research at Cranfield for more than 21 years. He has more than 20 years' experience in building high-performance teams and leading collaborative research and development with industry. In recognition of his leadership, organisational ability and international reputation, he is also elected President of the Association of Cost Engineers (ACostE) (2008-2010) and a Fellow of CIRP. Previously, Professor Roy worked in TELCO (now TATA Motors).