Five Hard Truths About Critical Infrastructure Protection

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Prime target continued

All these challenges – both for enterprises at large and for critical infrastructure providers in particular – are coming to a head as smart grid systems rapidly gain popularity across the country. These IT-heavy systems install home meters, neighborhood monitors and other network-connected equipment. The equipment provides power companies with much more granular control of services, down to adjusting environmental settings for HVAC systems remotely in individual structures.

The control smart grids offer can improve cost savings and service quality, but also introduces new security risks. The rush to network devices to gain other advantages has connected devices that have never been linked to the Internet before and weren't designed for it. Not only that, but smart grids also exponentially increase the cyber attack surface by enabling attackers to target individual homes and buildings such as schools and hospitals, not just larger regional facilities. In these respects and others, smart grids could actually be more dangerous than the legacy infrastructure they are quickly replacing.

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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