If you’ve seen Walt Disney’s Fantastia (or even if you haven’t), you’ll probably be aware of the story of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice – a very old tale going back around 2,000 years. Have a butcher’s at the YouTube clip below if you haven’t, but essentially it involves a sorcerer’s apprentice who takes advantage of his master’s absence to use his powers to get a broomstick to help him fill water buckets. The broomstick takes over and replicates itself, leading to a huge flood and terrible retribution from the sorcerer when he returns. It wouldn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to conjure up something similar with a brick-laying robot, but without the advantage of having an on-site sorcerer to bring proceedings to a halt….
Why am I bringing this up? Well, I’ve written extensively about the future of construction recently, emphasising the increasing part played by technology, from bricklaying robots to 3D printing to drones to exoskeletons and the many other ways in which our world is changing. Yet while everyone clambers aboard this algorithm-driven bandwagon, the sensible ones, while embracing the opportunities it brings, are also sucking their teeth and pondering what hidden dangers it might bring.
Most of us think of cyber security as being something that just affects the tech industry. Certainly, and I don’t want to alarm you (but am about to), there is a massive worldwide shortage of cyber security experts – the “white hats” who protect us from the baddies. Recent estimates suggest that across the planet we need 3.5 MILLION more cyber security professionals by 2021, and the schools, colleges and universities simply aren’t turning out graduates in sufficient numbers to get close to that figure. A huge amount of effort is going into trying to close this gap, including here in Scotland, but it’s not going to happen soon.
Meanwhile, on your local site, as more and more things get connected to the internet or are otherwise controlled by technology (albeit with – fallible – humans in real charge for present), it’s important to realise that, like all businesses, construction companies collect data. For example, they hold information on their client base and current, past and future projects - including personal details of other businesses and payment details. Increasingly, this information is stores in the cloud, which is fine and dandy and works well, but also creates concerns over where the security accountability lies.
A “black hat” hacker with malign intent (of which there are thousands) can intercept this data, leading to many potential problems, including the destruction and corruption of said data. He, or she, could make minor changes to structural/engineering plans, which then go unnoticed and result in a disaster. Such activities obviously threaten the safety of construction workers on the site. On a national scale, governments might seek to disrupt massive infrastructure projects or simply cause confusion and set back projects, thus increasing costs and frustration at best or endangering lives at worst. On a more local level, corporate espionage is happening already in many spheres and there is no reason to think that construction is immune. Phishing, computer viruses/trojans, hacking and ransomware are amongst the top four threats to cyber security for UK construction and companies need to be active in keeping their defences up and regularly maintained.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment