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C&I energy users increasingly concerned by utility data breaches, PwC finds

Nearly two-thirds of UK businesses are significantly concerned by energy utilities’ approach to data security and would switch if they fell victim to a cyber attack, PricewaterhouseCoopers research has found.

The global consultancy and accounting firm surveyed more than 500 UK businesses as part of its B2B energy survey and found that 57% of businesses - a figure which increases to 70% within the industrial sector - would switch supplier immediately if their data was stolen during a breach of security.

Data security has risen in prominence in recent months as digitalisation within the energy sector has gathered pace, driven by the uptake and use of smart meters, distribution grids and other smart energy technologies.

PwC said that these connected and managed offerings were new targets for attackers, and noted that a collaboration between it and technology giant BAE Systems found a global hacking group to be targeting providers of managed outsourced IT services, which provided them access to sensitive customer data.

Steve Jennings, power and utilities leader at PwC, said the risk of attacks from cybercriminals could not be ignored.

“It’s vital that energy suppliers gain the confidence of their customers by clearly demonstrating their ability to not only identify innovative technologies but critically to enhance their cybersecurity capabilities to respond to a range of sector specific events that could increase vulnerability,” he said.

Data captured and monitored by energy utilities is usually encrypted by smart meters and other monitoring equipment but PwC cyber specialist Niko Kalfigkopoulos said utilities needed to take a closer look at security mechanisms provided by third parties, and only partner with trusted technology providers.

Suppliers are also being urged to call for the establishment of an industry standard for product assurance.

“With around a third of industrials and over a fifth of commercial organisations planning to spend more than £1m on smart energy technology, the need for utilities - and smart technology suppliers in general - to get their cyber house in order is vital. Those organisations that react now with effective and transparent strategies will be the winners in the long run,” Kalfigkopoulos added.