While the topic of cybersecurity has been at the forefront of the news cycle in recent months, the discussion has mainly focused on the federal government. But while interests of national security have great merit, we must not forget that cybersecurity has many layers. The systems we depend on for electricity, water, healthcare, transportation, finance and more, operate on connected systems that can become targets just as much as an email server or government network. A single devastating attack on our critical infrastructure can place all of these critical resources at risk.
In 2016, seven hackers with alleged ties to Iran attempted to coordinate an attack targeting 46 major financial institutions and a dam outside of New York City. If they had been successful, the repercussions could have had a massive ripple effect that could have directly impacted millions of Americans.
That’s more than just a cyber-crime; it’s a terrorist attack – but in this case, technology was the weapon. So far, cyberattacks have been used to cause unease and disruption, as well as for monetary gain. Employed as a weapon of war, a cyberattack has the potential to be just as life threatening as any physical object.
Fighting the threat comes with challenges. Many of the networks that power our electrical grids, traffic lights, water filtration and other key systems were developed decades ago, long before the age of the Internet. They are now slowly being retrofitted to react to today’s threats, which is hardly ideal. In addition, much of the authority over these systems is distributed among local, state and federal governments, as well as the private sector. There’s no central ownership and many of the people involved have taken an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it mentality” which could ultimately prove very dangerous.
Fortunately, there are several steps that IT security teams can take to overcome these challenges.
“Air gap” critical systems
“Air gapping” ensures that systems are not directly connected to the Internet, internal business networks, or any other computers. Air gapping is an effective deterrent that can make it more difficult and time consuming for attackers to infiltrate infrastructure. It can be expensive, but the level of protection it offers offsets any potential financial drawbacks.
Adopt secure development and system architecture for SCADA
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) are comprised of computers and software that perform critical tasks and provide essential services. They tend to be old and must be closely managed, making them vulnerable and an easy target.
Adopting secure development and system architecture for SCADA systems can help reduce their vulnerabilities. Teams should regularly update their SCADA systems and protect them with strong access control policies and critical network security controls, such as firewalls and advanced malware protection.
Collaborate with the private sector
The Department of Defense (DoD) has proactively engaged with the private sector to develop better cybersecurity solutions. Through efforts like The National Infrastructure Coordinating Center, the DoD has kept an open dialog with businesses to ensure continuous innovation in the fight for better security of our national infrastructure. Teams within state and local municipalities should follow the DoD’s lead and look to federal government efforts as an example of how a close working relationship with businesses can help bolster critical infrastructure security efforts.