Ensuring cybersecurity of critical infrastructure

Publication March 7, 2016

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has used a mobile phone to pay for coffee or start a car that the world’s infrastructure is computerized and connected through the Internet and private networks. The connected world is in many ways more reliable and more efficient. For example, the use of “smart,” networked electricity meters that monitor home energy usage in real time has allowed utilities to reduce the need for additional power plants to meet energy demand. This technology also allows utilities to quickly pinpoint and resolve outages. At the same time, the increasingly connected electric grid is vulnerable to cyber threats, such as the recent attacks that disabled electric grids in Ukraine and Israel. These and other incidents demonstrate a key concern with cyber attacks on critical infrastructure—that virtual attacks perpetrated from across the planet using nothing more than a laptop keyboard can result in loss of life, and damage to property and economy.

From power plants to stock and commodity exchanges, from water treatment plants to aircrafts, the systems that make the world tick have been computerized and Internet-connected. Connectivity is what drives efficiency, and as connectivity increases—as it surely will—so too will cyber risks that threaten this critical infrastructure. The true potential for damage resulting from the exploitation of such cyber risks has catapulted the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure out of the virtual realm and into the minds of the public, Congress, regulators, trade groups and other stakeholders. While the United States has not yet experienced a large scale cyber attack resulting in massive loss of life or economic damage, a string of small incidents has helped all stakeholders to understand the devastating potential of an attack on critical infrastructure.

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