Digital construction methods may present a cybersecurity risk, research suggests

Physical infrastructure shut down may  be more feasible than ever before thanks to the reliance on network-controlled systems in our buildings and public spaces, according to new research from Birmingham City University.

BIM news

With an increased reliance on data and Building Information Modelling, design practitioners and the construction industry are likely to face more digital threats.

Physical buildings – digital hacking

Erika Parn, Visiting Fellow at Birmingham City University and BIM Coordinator at Exergy and Professor David Edwards have published a paper highlighting the potential pitfalls of digitising control systems and design data in our buildings. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is widely used in construction as a way of digitising the things we build in order to create a 3D model to record all the assets of that building. This allows construction teams to work with greater transparency and efficiency but due to the detailed level of information in these 3D models, there is growing concern that they could pose a cybersecurity risk. With this data, hackers would be able to access our building networks and pose a potential threat to our future Smart Cities, which will utilise intricate networks of connected devices.

The research proposes that extra measures are taken when sharing data. Project managers and design practitioners generally share data through a Common Data Environment (CDE), which is a single source of information used to collect, manage and share information related to a BIM project, Utilising blockchain security principles, the CDE could be made more secure by preventing the distribution of information by third parties, thus preventing hacking attempts from cybercriminals.

How does blockchain increase security?

Essentially, using blockchain to increase security decentralises the information that any third parties might be looking to steal. By separating assets into individual blocks, any potential hackers would need to infiltrate each block individually, instead of breaking through the CDE’s security measures and gaining access to all the assets. The research is currently informing a new mobile BIM app, Stacker, to help improve security of mobile access to BIM data. BIM projects usually involve the sharing of assets across multiple stakeholders, which further increases the security risks and this tool will also be designed to prevent improper use and unauthorised sharing of sensitive data. BIM data is seeing increasing access from mobile devices, namely smart phones. Stacker will be designed with security in mind to account for potential breaches.

Protecting future smart cities

The research outlines a number of recommendations to reduce the security risk related to a high reliance on Building Information Modelling. These recommendations include both social and technical considerations ranging from increasing industry awareness of cybersecurity risks to adopting cyber-deterrence measures that will help protect our physical and digital infrastructure in the future.