Five Hard Truths About Critical Infrastructure Protection

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Air gaps continued

Industry experts have known for years that air gap-hopping ICS/SCADA cyber attacks are not merely theoretical. Real-life proof of such attacks came in June 2010 with the discovery of the Stuxnet family of malware. Designed specifically to compromise and degrade SCADA and ICS systems in Iran's nuclear program, Stuxnet bypassed air gaps by gaining access to facilities via flash drive and then exploited previously unknown (zero-day) vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows® software. The malware lived undetected on Iranian networks for years, despite extensive security checks and fortifications. It also decisively showed that, air gaps or not, critical infrastructure providers have joined other large enterprises as successful targets for cyber attacks and APTs.

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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