Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Cyber Threats

It is interesting and at times bewildering, that in the many years following the failures of 9/11, we still have not found a way to share threat intelligence information without exposing classified information which may compromise the source. Look at these five primary pieces of infrastructure, which exist in every modern society, consider the interdependencies, and how a persist threat or disruption to one dependency can cascade throughout these infrastructure dominos.

Primary Role:

Electrical Power Generation/Distribution

Dependencies on:

  1. Above and below ground electrical distribution wires.
  2. Network Access to connect power generation and distribution systems.
  3. Backup generation systems for internal systems.
  4. Public water systems for employees.
  5. Roadway systems, for employees to get to and from work.
  6. Repair parts and the parts distribution channels.
  7. Fuel distribution systems

Water purification and distribution

Dependencies on:

  1. Below ground water distribution infrastructure
  2. Network Access to connect water purification and distribution systems.
  3. Backup generation systems for internal systems.
  4. Public water systems for employees.
  5. Electrical distribution systems
  6. Roadway systems, for employees to get to and from work.
  7. Repair parts and the parts distribution channels.
  8. Materials like silica and chorine which is used in water purification processes.
  9. Fuel distribution systems

Voice and Data transmission systems

Dependencies on:

  1. Above and below ground communication wires.
  2. Cell Tower systems
  3. Satellite communication systems
  4. Terrestrial and Submarine based communication fiber
  5. Electrical distribution systems
  6. Backup generation systems for communication systems.
  7. Public water systems for employees.
  8. Roadway systems, for employees to get to and from work.
  9. Repair parts and the parts distribution channels.
  10. Fuel distribution systems

Food distribution systems

Dependencies on:

  1. Network Access to connected reorder systems, Point of Sales systems.
  2. Electrical distribution systems
  3. Backup generation systems for internal systems.
  4. Public water systems for employees.
  5. Roadway systems, for employees to get to and from work.
  6. Repair parts and the parts distribution channels.
  7. Fuel distribution systems

Fuel distribution systems

  1. Below ground fuel (including regional jet fuel pipeline) and natural gas infrastructure
  2. Network Access to connect storage and distribution systems.
  3. Backup generation systems for internal systems.
  4. Public water systems for employees.
  5. Electrical distribution systems
  6. Roadway systems, for employees to get to and from work.
  7. Repair parts and the parts distribution channels.
  8. Unrefined crude oil delivery.
  9. Raw materials and precursors used in refinement.

Note: The above is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of dependencies but rather to capture those well-known items.

These five categories of services alone address more than 80% of the population needs, as they enable nearly everything else. As you can see they depend heavily on each other to be successful. We know these critical pieces of infrastructure our not managed by the same types of operating systems we use for desktop computing, web site, gaming, etc.… However, they are managed by the people using those systems which are most vulnerable, connected to corporate networks and using the public internet.

If we agree these five categories of systems are critical to life as we know it, and if the dependencies are present and operating at greater then 80% capability then life goes on, then we are on the same page.

So, why then is it hard to define and communicate the threat? I suspect it is more human than we imagine. For example, many experts agree attacks and probes of the North American Power Grid is more common than perhaps leaders are willing to discuss or define. The weakest link will remain the humans, because it is humans who can directly interfere with the process, procedures, and security of the systems protecting the infrastructure. It is the human who is not monitored like the systems they interact with on a daily basis.

Humans and the personas these humans possess in systems represents one of the most vulnerable attack surfaces for hackers and malware. Detecting changes in behaviors is key to risks ranking actions and alerting responders to potential issues before attackers complete their work. Centrify is using real time behavior analytics to drive multi-factor authentication (MFA) decision through AI. When behavior anomalies are present the risks score of the user is increased, applying additional and more stringent MFA techniques are applied. Humans are also the disconnected variable, in that they can be directly influenced by others, to become either a witting or unwitting agent of an attack. Understanding patterns of normal behavior, and linking actions to verifiable reason for escalated and privileged access is essential protecting critical infrastructure. Additionally, Centrify delivers zone technology to host management. This allows for the creation of role and action boundaries within the architecture, achieving just the right amount of access, with the right amount of behavioral assessments, without impeding the workers ability to perform approved activities.

At Centrify we strive to help our customers implement solutions designed to tighten security controls and processes around privileged identity, through the use of MFA, threat analytics, and user behavioral analysis, coupled with run time access approvals when needed. This along with our core products which reduce identity sprawl which providing real time audit controls, provides incident responders and auditors with the detailed insights needed to respond to, isolate, and correct any potential incidents.

Learn more about our identity services with a free trial!