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Cybersecurity Of Hvac Systems In The Era Of Connected Devices
Matthew T. Goss, Pe, Pmp, Cem, Cea, Cdsm, Leed® Ap(Bd+C), Mep/Energy Practice Leader, Cdm Smith
I recently served on the Technical Planning Team for the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Energy Exchange” virtual training event, where I supported a technical training track focused on cybersecurity by developing two technical discussions. One discussion described the importance of implementing cybersecurity for microgrids and distributed energy resources, and the other covered how cybersecurity can be applied to operational technology systems. Operational technology is the hardware and software that detects or causes a change through the direct monitoring and/or control of industrial equipment, assets, processes, and events(Source: Gartner Inc.“Definition of Operational Technology (OT) - Gartner Information Technology Glossary.”Gartner, HVAC control systems, building management systems, and systems serving similar functions are considered operational technology.
Don’t connect external devices such as hard drives or USB flash drives to your systems.
Immediately change default usernames/ passwords as soon as the equipment is put online.
Do not share configuration files.
Continually train all equipment users.
Disconnect remote access.
Don’t use these systems to search and access the internet.
In retrospect, all of these seem easily achievable, pragmatic, and commonsense. However, the challenge appears to be implementing and enforcing these guidelines. The question is no longer “if” we are hacked but “when.” Therefore, a plan must be in place as a proactive approach to security. I recommend conducting regular check-ins and reviews to ensure that all equipment users are following the rules. Individuals need to recognize this is a continuous and ever-changing process – it’s not static. Additionally, owners and operators need to prepare for the worstcase – the “what if” scenario. Again, while it may appear to be commonsense, owners and operators should also plan for disaster recovery. They should be prepared with a backup in case of an emergency like data breaches, malware attacks, or data loss. This is especially important as information provided by peers and colleagues indicates that most facilities not only don’t have a disaster recovery plan but don’t even change their systems’ default access information.
As technology and connectivity advance, and as we use technology to make more informed decisions, we as designers and engineers need to broaden our knowledge and ensure we’re appropriately educating our clients, owners, and operators. It’s our job to give them the knowledge they need to appropriately and securely monitor their environment.