Fortescue urges industry to focus on protecting data

Fortescue's Operations Centre. Image: Fortescue.

Fortescue Metals Group head of cyber security Mark Wallace believes the mining industry is sitting on a gold mine of data, labelling it as “the strategic asset we need to focus on.”

He said gathering data presents enormous opportunities but also significant challenges in a presentation at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne.

One of his examples of how miners are well positioned to become digital leaders was using the huge amount of data pulled from autonomous trucks.

“Each truck has 250 sensors, generating about 91 billion events a month across our fleet,” Wallace explained.

“That works out to about 40 terabytes of data we have to store, process, pull out the useful bits we actually want to use, then work out how we’re going to retain this information and control the quality over time.”

Fortescue is already using data to incentivise equipment manufacturers, improve productivity and track performance across its assets, but the company is always on the lookout for new ways to realise its value.

“There really is a growing understanding across teams that they are now reliant on data, the value of data has become really, really central,” Wallace said.

The risks of using data however should always be considered.

Wallace said the days of simply securing information behind a firewall are behind us, and the use of tablets, mobile phones, cloud technology and third-party contractors had blurred the lines of setting up security perimeters.

“Most companies I talk to have 10 cyber incidents every month,” he said. “The big issue from a mining point of view is what happens if one of these Internet of Things (IoT) devices actually goes rogue?

“How do we know some rogue entity hasn’t just put that IoT sensor out there and is providing false information with the intention of damaging your plant?”

Wallace warned Australian companies were under constant threat of cyber security breaches.

“There’s certainly a lot more ‘hacktivists’ trying to disrupt our business. There is a nation state-type attack and there’s a lot of financially motivated attacks,” he said.

Wallace advised that when it comes to preserving digital assets, the industry should focus on its crown jewels.

“We’ve got hundreds of different data assets we use for different purposes, but which of these is actually important?” he said.

“Identify the crown jewels and focus most of our effort in those areas.”

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