GE’s Digital Ghost Seeks to Fight Off Cyberattacks

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General Electric has an awesome trick up its sleeve in the fight against cyberattacks – the Digital Ghost, which is a combination of Digital Twin and industrial control technologies.

You’ve probably already heard about digital twins. They’re the solution companies have come up with to minimize damage and maintenance costs to equipment and to figure out flaws before they become a problem. Engineers build a digital twin of a physical object and run all sorts of tests based on the data sent out by the sensors on the machine. In this way, they’ll always know if there’s something wrong with the machine or if there are dangers that need to be prevented.

With a Digital Ghost, GE takes things to the next level because it wants to also prevent cyberattacks. In short, a Digital Ghost is the virtual version of the control systems that are found in industrial technology. In case of an attack, the sensors can detect the anomalies in the system and prompt further investigation. For instance, if one sensor tells a different story than the rest of them, it might be the fault of a cyberattack and more attention needs to be given to that specific incident. In an interview for ZDNet, GE Global Reseach’s vice president of software research, Colin Parris points out that they know the normal state for a machine so anything beyond that could signal an issue.

Unlike regular digital twins, the Digital Ghost is directed more towards control systems which have a lot more responsibility. “You can segment the problem and keep the machine running by isolating the anomaly,” Parris told the publication, explaining how the new solution can help out in protecting entire infrastructures.

According to him, the Digital Ghost can be used for smart grids and cities, and basically anything that has a built-in control system, including legacy systems.

Take, for example, natural disasters where power grids suffered outages due to fallen trees. Or, a more modern version like we’ve seen in Ukraine, where a piece of malware called Black Energy took out a grid a couple of years ago leaving nearly a million people in the dark. A digital ghost could help prevent such attacks by noticing when something is amiss and fixing the issue before it becomes a serious problem.

“In the world of cybersecurity, there are no such things as guarantees. But adding new layers of protection such as Digital Ghost will ensure we are putting our strongest effort forward,” said GE’s Justin John, leader of the controls algorithm team.

The company estimates the Digital Ghost will be commercialized sometime next year, but in the meantime continues to deploy digital twins left and right, learning how to make them the best at their job. So far, Digital Twins have been proven to be extremely effective in lowering repair costs because they are done before the product is too damaged, but they’ve also seen benefits in terms of customer disruption.

The advantages of deploying both digital twins and, in the years to come Digital Ghosts, are clear and we can only hope we can avoid situations as the one in Ukraine all over the globe because it’s clear as day that the wars of the future won’t be fought only on the battle fields, but also online.

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