The big news in cybersecurity in May 2021 was the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which affected about half of the petroleum products supplied on the East Coast of the United States. A week later, here in New Zealand, Waikato District Health Board was also hit with a ransomware attack, shutting down much of its healthcare activity for days.
It is becoming increasingly clear that cyberattacks are no longer just irritating or embarrassing but can do real harm. This is particularly so when they affect industrial control networks.
While traditional industrial control systems were protected from cyberattack because they were isolated from the internet by a so-called “air gap”, that is no longer the case. Efficient business operations require that control systems be connected to corporate IT systems, and that corporate IT systems be connected to the Internet, and that creates vulnerabilities. In 2010, the Stuxnet worm was believed to be responsible for causing substantial physical damage to the Iranian nuclear programme but attacks on operational technology (OT) that controls industrial plant are no longer the preserve of nation state conflicts. Organised criminals demanding ransoms, or even mischievous “joy riders”, are a threat to OT today. Unfortunately, existing cybersecurity solutions just slow them down, at best.
New Hamilton NZ-based OT cybersecurity company First Watch Ltd inserts a provenance-tracking zero-trust architecture into OT systems that use almost any supplier’s equipment to secure the core human-machine interfaces and programmable logic controllers that run industrial equipment in energy and water utilities, and manufacturing plants. First Watch’s patent-pending technology was developed in the recently-completed STRATUS cybersecurity research programme led by the University of Waikato and funded by the NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and then commercialised by WaikatoLink and CTEK.
Since First Watch was established in October 2019, its team of software engineers has converted this research into an effective and stable set of software and hardware tools, validated by pilot customers and experts in the field. Led by Managing Director Bob Stokes, and now with paying customers, First Watch Ltd is currently raising capital at a pre-Series A stage to rapidly scale up the business to protect OT in New Zealand, expand to Australia later in 2021 and globally in 2022.
WaikatoLink is proud to be an investor in First Watch Ltd.