The rapid acceleration of digital transformation in the modern world has created a host of new threats and challenges for business leaders. 

While many organizations invest in increased security efforts, critical infrastructure cybersecurity is frequently overlooked. Unfortunately, attacks on critical national infrastructure can have disastrous consequences, disrupting financial services, transportation systems, and utilities. 

To counter these threats, governments and related agencies are searching for new and improved ways to enhance their cybersecurity measures and internal control systems. Today, we’ll be exploring critical infrastructure in cybersecurity and how companies can protect themselves against the threats of the changing landscape.

What is Critical Infrastructure in Cybersecurity?

The term “critical infrastructure security” refers to the overall processes and strategies companies use to protect systems, networks, and assets essential to the operations of a nation, its economy, and the public’s health or safety.

Increasingly, as the information technology landscape evolves in the federal government, public and private sector, critical infrastructure security focuses on more digital landscapes. Growing trends like M2M networking and the Internet of Things have exposed critical infrastructure systems to cybersecurity risks.

Building a cybersecurity architecture for the critical sector requires leaders to rethink their approach to information sharing, data analysis and management, and technology protocols. With the right cybersecurity framework, companies can access more visibility into their critical infrastructure systems and maintain control over essential assets.

Not only is this initiative crucial to the continued safety and success of government and critical infrastructure groups, but it’s also becoming a matter of compliance.

Concepts like the NIS Directive are pushing more organizations to take ownership of their cybersecurity vulnerabilities and respond with the correct NIST cybersecurity framework.

So What Systems Count as Critical Infrastructure?

Cybercriminals don’t just target companies and commercial organizations in today’s world. Malicious actors increasingly threaten national security by targeting critical infrastructure systems with access to huge volumes of crucial data. 

Although critical infrastructure elements can vary depending on the country or location, there are many commonalities among nations. The critical infrastructure sector covers all assets, systems, and networks essential to a society’s economy, security, and public health and safety. 

This includes utility companies, water supply companies, internet and mobile networks, financial services, transportation systems, food and agriculture sectors, and the national security sector.

While critical infrastructure operators need to invest in innovative technologies and partnerships to boost efficiencies, the rising focus on digital systems in this landscape can present significant problems for overall security. A single vulnerability in cybersecurity measures can cause a major outage for even the biggest government, defense, or public sector entity. 

Why is Cybersecurity Important for Critical Infrastructure?

Many critical infrastructure environments rely on industrial control systems (ICS), SCADA technologies, and other tools used to automate industrial processes on a massive scale. 

Like any digital technology, these tools are subject to potential vulnerabilities and cyber-attack threats, without the right security measures in place. The cybersecurity risk in this landscape can be astronomical. For instance, an issue with the homeland security infrastructure could pose a significant risk to our defense systems and citizen safety. 

Problems with the critical infrastructure security of utilities companies could influence the operation of electrical grids, water distribution, and gas and oil supply. As an example, in May 2021, cybercriminals breached a company that was responsible for almost half of the gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel in the East Coast. 

With one compromised password, the hackers took down America’s largest fuel pipeline, leading to massive shortages across the East Coast. 

The cyber threats facing critical infrastructure providers can have financial implications too. According to Gartner, the average cost of downtime per minute for an oil or gas company can fall between $5,000 and $10,000. The sheer impact of these breaches presents an appealing opportunity to cybercriminals, who use ransomware attacks to demand huge payments from their victims.

What are the Vulnerabilities of Critical Infrastructure?

Critical infrastructure owners face several threats, from potential hacks of their official websites to issues with cloud security. The digitization of critical infrastructure and rising dependence on outsourced solutions from third parties has created a host of vulnerabilities.

Supply chain attacks are becoming increasingly commonplace, with many infrastructure businesses compromised as collateral damage. Core infrastructure companies are facing particularly high risks, due to the massive impact an outage or attack could have on citizens. 

Energy, water, transportation, and healthcare systems are necessary for citizens to survive. The ability to deny access to any of these resources is a massive threat to a country’s economy and safety. What’s more, as the cyber side of global conflicts continues to grow, a national infrastructure protection plan is becoming essential to the overall defense strategy of every company. 

Adhering to cybersecurity requirements encourage companies to take an updated approach to managing common threats such as:

  • Employee workforce risk
  • Issues with outsourced services and third parties
  • Native technology stack security
  • Operational technology security
  • Internal policies and processes

How to Build Enhanced Critical Infrastructure Security Resilience

Cybersecurity infrastructure examples vary from one environment to the next. As more organizations come under attack from cyber criminals, innovative tools and services are evolving to address the evolving needs of these groups. However, while the exact resources companies use for a national cybersecurity strategy can vary, the core focus is proactive vigilance. 

In today’s world, critical infrastructure companies must constantly monitor risks and defend themselves against cyberattacks in new and innovative ways. 

State and local entities have already begun implementing strategies for critical infrastructure resilience, proactively assessing, managing, and prioritizing threats. For instance, the CSET (Cyber Security Evaluation Tool) provides a systematic approach to assessing the cybersecurity requirements of ICS networks. The OMB (Office of Management and Budget) also provides funding and guidance to help agencies adopt proactive cybersecurity measures. 

Both private and public sector organizations are also sharing information and best practice guidance throughout the world today with commercially-backed exchanges. 

While several tools and security products can help organizations protect against cyber risk, a reactive approach is the biggest issue businesses need to overcome. 

Today’s infrastructure teams need to implement:

  • Proactive monitoring: Using proactive monitoring tools can give organizations a more complete view of their risk landscape. This reduces the issues companies face in the event of a data breach, and helps mitigate potential disasters. 
  • Supply chain risk management: Significant cybersecurity events can happen in supply chain layers beyond immediate third parties. A full view of the supply chain, with insights into potential threat vectors, is crucial to thrive today.
  • Third-party risk management: Many critical infrastructure companies trust third parties with sensitive data and operational functions. To safeguard their digital ecosystem, they need real-time visibility into the cyber performance of their third-party partners. 

How can RiskRecon Help Me?

Overcoming the vulnerabilities in a national infrastructure protection plan or critical infrastructure security system requires a proactive approach. To fight back against cyber risk, every organization needs to invest in visibility, insights, and reporting strategies that make it easier to understand and act on risks. That’s where RiskRecon by Mastercard comes in. 

RiskRecon offers access to automated risk assessments tuned to match business leaders' specific needs in the critical infrastructure landscape. 

With innovative risk monitoring technology, RiskRecon provides a clear view of each potential threat actor in your vendor ecosystem, reports organizational security, and delivers quick insights into attack vectors.

Discover how RiskRecon helps critical infrastructure companies identify rising threats in the cyber security landscape with a 30-day free trial today.