Five Hard Truths About Critical Infrastructure Protection

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Hard Truth: 'Air gaps' do not provide infallible protection against cyber threats and APTs.

Critical infrastructure protection has always been a high-stakes business with strong economic and national security implications. Until recently, critical infrastructure providers focused almost entirely on physical security, installing multiple layers or "rings" from the front gate all the way to the most critical inner recesses. The rings are physically separated and not connected to the Internet, creating what are commonly known as "air gaps."

At the same time, providers are taking advantage of the IT revolution by adding IT systems to improve the management of their ICS systems and the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that monitor and control them. This development is important because SCADA and ICS systems are not so much soft targets as brittle ones, hardened against physical threats to operating reliably in one specific way for years or decades. Any deviations from accepted operating conditions – such as those malware can introduce – can jeopardize the controller and anything the controller affects.

Once considered the unthinkable, real-life cyber attacks on critical infrastructure have taken center stage in the past three years. Advancing technologies, evolving cyber threats and a little piece of malware called Stuxnet have catapulted cybersecurity of real-world infrastructure from an academic backwater to a top government and industry priority. From power plants to water treatment sites to traffic control systems, critical infrastructure once thought invulnerable to targeted cyber attacks now lies squarely in the crosshairs.

Over the past two decades, asset owners and operators have added IT systems to help improve management of the ubiquitous industrial control systems (ICS) that perform essential mechanical functions of all kinds. These systems have led to improved service, lower costs and technological marvels such as smart grids. Unfortunately, they have also exposed critical infrastructure to software vulnerabilities that adversaries can exploit through malware and advanced persistent threats (APTs).

Critical infrastructure providers now find themselves in a harrowing position: They must protect both physical and digital assets, but often know less than their adversaries do about those assets' vulnerabilities and how to remediate them. The complexity of IT-enabled critical infrastructure has multiplied the difficulty of protecting it, as have the skyrocketing frequency, sophistication and severity of cyber attacks over the past ten years. Consequences for failure can be catastrophic, but finding the right resources to improve protection can be challenging and expensive – making the decision to invest in security a painful business dilemma.

To protect themselves and their stakeholders from escalating cyber threats, critical infrastructure owners must first acknowledge five hard truths, according to Raju Dodhiawala, vice president and general manager at ManTech.

 

Related Topics : Unisys, Stimulus Package, Security Breaches, Symantec, Electronic Surveillance

 
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