Five Hard Truths About Critical Infrastructure Protection

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Digital vulnerabilities continued

ICS-CERT's June 2012 Incident Response Summary Report stated that the organization fielded nine incident reports in 2009, 41 in 2010 and 198 in 2011 – a 2,100-percent increase in only two years. Most incidents were not actual attacks, but of the 17 incidents that warranted on-site assessments:

  • Seven were the result of spear phishing, with at least one incident involving infection from a USB device.
  • 11 involved sophisticated threat actors seeking sensitive data.
  • 12 could have been deterred, detected much faster or mitigated if the organizations had implemented IT security best practices.

The report noted that while none of the intrusions targeted control system networks, the flat and interconnected nature of many organizations' networks made them potentially easy pickings for attackers. Another common weakness ICS-CERT discovered was that most providers lacked adequate detection technologies. "Properly developed and implemented detection methods are the best strategy to quickly identify intrusions and implement mitigation and recovery procedures," the report stated.

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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