Assessing the security risks of critical infrastructure organizations is a bit of a challenge, because the category includes multiple industries.
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which leads the nation’s effort to manage and reduce risk to cyber and physical infrastructure, identifies 16 critical infrastructure sectors. These sectors’ assets, systems, and networks are considered so vital to the country that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.
These sectors include chemicals, commercial facilities, communications, critical manufacturing, dams, defense, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, healthcare and public health, IT, nuclear, transportation, and water and wastewater systems.
That’s a lot of sectors, and it represents a good piece of the U.S. economy in addition to a lot of essential services and goods for citizens. It should go without saying that a cybersecurity breach in any of these areas could cause serious problems.
Challenges to Vulnerability Management in Critical Infrastructure
One challenge facing some of these sectors is that they operate an aging, legacy infrastructure that’s vulnerable to outages and other problems. And because these organizations provide such important services to communities, they are natural targets for bad actors—including those sponsored or harbored by nation states—looking to wreak havoc.
Critical infrastructure organizations face many of the same threats and risks as other types of organizations: ransomware, phishing, denial-of-service, data breaches, vulnerabilities related to remote work, the rise in cloud-based services, and mobile devices. Overall, they are dealing with the increasingly sophisticated attacks designed to fool security systems.
A prime example of a hit against a critical infrastructure provider is the attack against Colonial Pipeline in May 2021. The oil pipeline system that carries gasoline and jet fuel mainly to the southeastern U.S. suffered a ransomware attack that affected equipment managing the pipeline. The company operating the pipeline had to halt the pipeline’s operations to contain the attack.
Every critical infrastructure organization is reliant on supply chains, so guarding against incidents related to the supply chain is vital. And as more companies build Internet of Things (IoT) environments to keep track of assets, gather information on product usage, and enable interaction among devices, ensuring secure IoT also takes on more importance.
In many cases, protecting the IT assets of these critical infrastructure organizations is not just in the interest of the organizations and their business partners and customers. It’s a matter of national security. The electrical grid needs to be up and running all the time, as do emergency services.
Lights On: Why Vulnerability Management is Key to Critical Infrastructure
Vulnerability management is a key part of building stronger security into the critical infrastructure, because it helps ensure that software and systems do not include vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors intent on creating serious problems.
Critical infrastructure providers need to make it a high priority to develop a strong vulnerability management program, and a big part of this is deploying tools that are designed to enable security teams to focus their efforts on exploitable vulnerabilities and avoid patching false positives.
By getting automated recommendations for the most efficient ways to remediate vulnerabilities, they can make informed decisions and take quick action.
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