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Should ECs Start Thinking About Getting Into Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay
Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

Professionals in the field of electrical engineering are starting to see the impact of the modern, digital world. Thanks to a variety of new technologies and solutions, the industry has witnessed some incredible breakthroughs when it comes to capability and achievement. Professionals are also starting to incorporate many of those technologies into their regular operations.

For this reason, the engineering field has seen a growing demand for digital-oriented skillsets. Electrical professionals are now expected to be familiar with the internet of things (IoT). The IoT is used heavily in most instances to augment various projects and operations. Even in the rare situations where it's not, it will likely be implemented soon. One example of this is the smarter, more connected climate control systems being installed in homes and businesses today.

Piggybacking off the widespread adoption of the IoT and similar data-powered technologies is the idea that professionals in the field should also become familiar with basic cybersecurity and data protection measures. Sure, it may seem rather foreign, but due to the changing landscape, it will soon be necessary to understand where threats are and how to deal with them. Engineers will be just as responsible as software developers for ensuring the systems, tools and processes they use follow security best practices.

To understand why cybersecurity knowledge is necessary, we must consider the future of information technology as it pertains to the electrical engineering field.

Connected technology is everywhere

From industrial-grade IoT equipment and sensors to the smart grid (internet-ready utility solutions in the energy industry), it's evident that connected technologies are just about everywhere these days. In other words, it's no longer a consumer-focused topic but more of a comprehensive network that incorporates a gamut of industries, from retail and manufacturing all the way to the utility sector.

Beyond that, much discussion is focused on future "smart cities," a concept that would see entire cities outfitted with smart, connected devices and solutions.

At the same time, cybersecurity attacks and data threats have become more sophisticated. It makes for a rather tumultuous environment where anything is possible. In the past, the idea of hackers taking control of a transportation system or energy grid was reserved for the most hyperbolic action movies. Today, it's a reality. In fact, resourceful hackers successfully took down Ukraine's power grid in 2015, leaving hundreds of thousands without power for some time.

There's clearly a precedent for these kinds of sophisticated attacks, and when they happen, they can wreak havoc not just on general society but a wide variety of systems and infrastructure. Imagine what would happen to most businesses if the local power grid was taken offline for days or even weeks?

It means that, collectively, we need more eyes and more protection spaced across these various networks and their attack surfaces. Everyone involved, including electrical engineers, should have a solid understanding of potential threats and how to deal with them.

Electrical engineers, especially, have a key responsibility in today's landscape to help protect systems and infrastructure, and even more so for those involved in device and hardware creation or modification, or industrial control systems.

A common misconception is that cyberattack and hacking threats are exclusive to software, which is not true at all. Whether during development or through various modifications, hardware can be laced with vulnerabilities. Understanding where weak points might appear and how to deal with them is crucial to building a solid foundation for any platform.

Cybersecurity experience is more desirable than ever

By acquiring a reasonable knowledge of basic cybersecurity, electrical professionals can position themselves well above their competition. It's a highly desirable asset in today's landscape, and that's true of a multitude of professions—not just those who spend their time in front of a keyboard and screen.

As smart cities and related technologies are implemented, contractors will need to diversify their skill sets well beyond what would have been necessary in the past. Some of the important skills to consider include software development and programming, cybersecurity, mobile and modern technology familiarity, and more.

A day in the life of the average electrician is packed to the brim with many duties. ECs already install or manage cables, conduits, handle connectivity for lighting, deal with climate control systems, large-scale networks and their devices, data-collection systems, and much more. It's not a stretch to claim the average workload is growing thanks to those same technologies.

At the very least, established ECs should begin preparing for the future, while those just entering the field will want to build a more competitive reputation through the acquisition of desirable skills and talents. If you are involved in the field, now is certainly the time to think about expanding your skillset, particularly in the cybersecurity realm.

About the Author

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer whose work has appeared on VentureBeat, Metering & Smart Energy International, VICE and The Huffington Post. To read more posts by Kayla, you can visit her blog, Productivity Bytes.

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