New institute to study the cyber attack threat to supply chains

By Will Green, 14 January 2014,

Cyber attacks and other threats to the vital systems that control the UK’s industry and infrastructure will be the focus of a new research institute.

The Research Institute into Trustworthy Industrial Control Systems will explore potential threats to the UK’s infrastructure, which controls a range of processes, including nuclear power generation, manufacturing and energy distribution.

Researchers will investigate how cyber attacks could shut down these control systems, including the knock-on effect on downstream businesses, and how this can be prevented or counteracted.

Professor Chris Hankin, director of the institute, said: “In 2007, parts of Estonia ground to a halt when it experienced a denial-of-service cyber attack, overloading servers, which led to a temporary government shutdown. While this is an extreme example, it highlights how vulnerable countries are to these types of threats.

“Our industrial control systems are vital for running most of the industrial processes that underpin modern society. From electricity generation to making sure trains run on time, these systems are vital to our everyday lives, but more work needs to be done to determine how vulnerable they are to threats from cyber attack. Research will focus on working out what the potential dangers are, so that new technologies and procedures can be designed to mitigate them in the future.”

The institute, based at Imperial College London, is jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Cabinet Office via the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure.

Industrial control systems include many components such as mechanical parts, sensors, computer hardware and software, which are often located in remote places.

Historically they were designed to operate in isolation but the rise of the internet means they are now connected to IT networks making them more vulnerable to attack.

A manufacturing machine in a factory.

A new institute will research cyber attack threats to industrial control systems. © Shutterstock