Over the past few years, the world has witnessed several cyber-attacks on critical infrastructures, causing economic devastation globally. An example is the recent scathing infrastructure attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which caused the county's gasoline prices to rise and even affect the logistics of goods and food, causing massive tensions on the country's west coast. Cybercriminals are aware that attacking the critical infrastructure can be a Jackpot. The organization or the government is under constant pressure to provide essential services like food, transport, healthcare, etc., to the population. Thus, attackers' demands will be met sooner because the services are crucial in national and global stability.
What is critical infrastructure?
Critical infrastructure includes the facilities, systems, and other crucial services that society depends upon to maintain public health, national security, and economic stability. In common, they are Water Treatment Plants, the electricity supplying grids, the public transportation, the supply chain, and the Internet and communications we depend on to contact our loved ones. In most countries, this physical and cyberinfrastructure is typically owned and operated by the private/public sector, though some are owned by federal, state, or local governments. Not every infrastructure within an industry sector is critical to a nation or region. It is essential to identify several critical infrastructures that maintain continuous services or functions and are vulnerable to threats or hazards that criminals can exploit. Prioritizing the allocation of available resources to that crucial critical infrastructure can help us concentrate more on these services, enhancing the nation's security and reducing risk. There are four lifeline functions based on the priority– transportation, water, energy, and communications, which means that their operations are so critical that a disruption in one of these functions can cause instability in the security and elasticity of critical infrastructure across several interdependent sectors. For example, the energy sectors provide essential power and fuels to the communication, transportation, and water sectors, and, in return, the energy sector relies on them for transportation of fuel, generation of electricity with the help of water for producing and cooling purposes and communication for operations in infrastructure.
Critical Infrastructure Sectors The below-mentioned sectors were officially listed as critical infrastructure sectors. In addition, there are significant discussions to add even the Election Voting System as a critical infrastructure sector.
Importance of securing Critical Infrastructure
Most countries have access to electricity, clean drinking water, transportation networks, and many other critical infrastructure services at the verge of increasing cyber-attacks. We can have devastating consequences of these threats, threatening global economies and entire communities. Protecting critical infrastructure relies on solid partnerships between governments and commercial organizations and the solutions used to manage and implement these initiatives. Recognizing the risks that are capable enough to threaten critical infrastructure systems' integrity is a crucial task. For example, if we are hit by a system or network security issue, the first thing that comes to our minds is hackers or terrorist threats. Still, several other threats could have caused the problem, such as equipment failure, human error, and natural causes. Therefore, we should enhance ourselves and the security solutions we select to detect and identify risks to consider all possible threats to a particular failure rather than sticking to a few of them.
Security Challenges Faced by Critical Infrastructure
As technology is advancing, so is the infrastructure of critical services. There has been a tremendous increase in cloud services and widespread global adoption of remote work culture since the pandemic, which has posed a challenge in protecting the critical infrastructure from the attacks or threats exposed. The attacking surface for the cybercriminals has also grown along with the blending of traditional IT systems and operational technology (OT) networks. The attackers can quickly enter the network of critical infrastructure with the help of tactics – such as a malicious email or a vulnerable remote access application. Let's discuss in detail the challenges faced by security infrastructure.
1) Internal Resources Lack of internal resources has always been a significant issue in the security industry, and it continues to be so. Many organizations and businesses lack trained security professionals to meet their security needs. Surveys are stating that there are almost 8 – 9 million unfilled security-related jobs globally. These are just the number before organizations and businesses adopted remote work; probably now, these numbers would have doubled.
2) Breach Detection Organizations need continuous monitoring of their IT and OT systems to look for changes that could point to a security incident. Organizations commonly use agent-based solutions to monitor their IT assets, and they, therefore, might be tempted to extend agent-based Detection to their OT networks. However, this kind of breach detection is useless to safeguard the critical infrastructure. Furthermore, agents require downtime to be updated or installed; such downtimes in the absence of compensating technologies could undermine the economy, national security, and public safety of the country it serves.
3) Threat Landscape If we compare, the OT threat landscape is larger than the IT threat landscape because most devices deployed in the OT are not changed as frequently as in IT. Many organizations that help to operate critical infrastructure have legacy systems. Due to the projection in cost, most organizations resist upgrading their OT technologies. Moreover, they can't simply find a new control system; they also need to decommission the old infrastructure and invest in new network infrastructure to support it. The major problem is that these legacy systems are often years, if not decades old. These old infrastructures also use outdated network protocols for communication and lack remote upgrade mechanisms. Due to this, organizations leave themselves exposed to malicious actors exploiting a vulnerability within their legacy systems.
4) Cybersecurity Skill Gaps Organizations don't have the required professional talent to secure their critical infrastructure. The skills gap is getting wider and wider with each passing day. The demand for cybersecurity experts has only doubled after the pandemic. Studies show that 83% of security experts felt more overworked going into 2020 than they did in the previous years. These studies also stated a tremendous understaffing of specialists in the industry. With fewer security experts, organizations and businesses are more likely to find themselves reacting to security incidents rather than detecting or preventing them in the first place.
5) Situational Awareness All the above challenges highlight the need for organizations and businesses to be proactive about their infrastructure security. They should be capable enough to monitor their industrial environments for threats and spot them before these can puncture the critical infrastructure devices. In addition, the employees should be aware of basic security stands to be performed and the steps to handle this to a certain degree before handing it over to the security teams. In other words, people should have situational awareness to strengthen the security of their organizations or businesses networks.
Benefits of using Extended Detection and Response (XDR) /Managed Detection and Response (MDR)
Many businesses are faced with securing the organization or company with limited security resources due to growing network complexity and an evolving cyber threat landscape. MDR and XDR can provide solutions, but it depends on the organization's needs; they must determine the best security and business options. An organization lacking necessary in-house security specialization/expertise will be served better by MDR. But if the organization has a mature but overwhelmed Security operation center, it would benefit more from the force multiplication provided by XDR.
Extended Detection and Response Benefits (XDR)
Blocking attacks with the help of powerful endpoint protection and leveraging AI-based regional analysis and Behavioural Threat Protection to stop malware, exploits, and file-less attacks to the organization.
Managed Detection and Response Benefits (MDR) MDR providers act as a full-service outsourced Security Operations Centre for their customers, and partnering with an MDR provider carries several benefits:
Rely on the Expertise of an MSSP
The primary purpose of MSSP is to replace an organization's internal security team. By partnering with an MSSP, a company receives several benefits: