Cybersecurity concerns relating to the protection of data are having a significant impact on the modernization (or lack thereof) of critical and public utility infrastructure, with many utility companies failing to adopt new tools and technology available to them. However, it is possible to integrate advanced tools in these areas while still maintaining a high level of cybersecurity.
The demand for energy and water continues to increase due to a growing population and the use of electronic devices. Not only this, but organizations must also face the challenges presented by natural disasters, which could be more and more frequent due to the effects of climate change. Without modern systems and security, meeting these demands becomes almost impossible.
In this article, we will discuss how cybersecurity is delaying the modernizationof critical infrastructure and what can be done to prevent data security concerns from holding back the industry.
The Challenge for Critical Infrastructure Organizations
For critical infrastructure organizations, building a security strategythat works from both an operational technology (OT) and consumer data perspective is not as straightforward as it is in many other industries. Safely storing this data while implementing the latest technology has proved to be a significant challenge across the sector, meaning the service provided by these companies is being hampered.
These concerns have prevented a range of technologies from being integrated quickly or at all. These technologies include renewable energy projects, electric vehicle technology, natural disaster contingencies and moving towards smarter grid solutions to replace aging infrastructure.
Older operational technology becomes difficult to update and secure sufficiently while the use of third-party software also reduces the level of control organizations have over their data. In addition to this, a lack of automation increases the chances of human error, which could present opportunities to cybercriminals. This is a major problem in the financial industry in particular, where everyday consumers are now highly susceptible to banking fraud.
Strict regulations also present many compliance hurdles that public utility infrastructure companies need to overcome. That means they must dedicate a lot of time and resources to getting and staying compliant and adhering to and reporting on all aspects of their operations. These requirements now include reports related to cybersecurity, such as the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act of 2022 (CIRCIA).
Three Ways Critical Infrastructure Providers Can Protect Data
Fortunately, there are solutions to the challenges faced by the critical infrastructure sector, with three key measures that can help to protect company and consumer data. These steps provide a comprehensive solution to cover operational technology and data storage, using real-time analytics to help organizations adopt a modern approach.
1. Demilitarized Zones (DMZ)
Building demilitarized zones (DMZ) can help promote better network segmentation, ensuring operations are more robust and creating an additional level of security. For utility companies, this means separating the IT and OT environments, making life harder for cybercriminals.
This segmentation means many traditional attack techniques will not be capable of breaching an IT system and the threat actor won’t be able to access operational data. Another advantage of separating IT and OT systems is it creates a more manageable and simplified network. Messy and complicated networks increase the attack surface and can result in more vulnerabilities that may be difficult to detect internally.
However, even with DMZ in place, a network may still be at risk from more sophisticated cyberattacks. This is why regular testing and ongoing monitoring are required, as well as an incident response strategy should an attack occur. Having thorough procedures in place can help to minimize downtime and stop an attacker in their tracks before any lasting damage can be done.
2. Reduce the Likelihood of Human Error
Protecting against cybercrime is not just a case of implementing advanced systems and using state-of-the-art tools. It can be as simple as providing better education to employees and consumers. Minimizing the chance of human error is one of the most effective ways of protecting the operations and data of a critical infrastructure organization.
Promoting a cybersecurity culture is a primary aim across all industries in the coming years, raising awareness on spotting fraudand potential threats and ensuring employees follow best practices to keep data safe.
As well as better training and documentation for employees and effective marketing material and easily accessible resources for consumers, user access also needs to be managed effectively. Measures such as multifactor authentication and limiting system access based on user roles are also advised.
Internal auditing procedures should also be put in place to record all users, connected devices, systems, installed software and more, helping security teams keep track of the network architecture to check for vulnerabilities. This should be combined with endpoint detection and response, a firewall, a VPN, antivirus and antimalware software and spam filters.
3. Set Up Additional Layers of Security
Many large organizations have now moved toward a zero-trust policythat implements additional security steps and extra validation to better secure networks. Zero-trust works by assuming no users, internal or external, can be trusted to access the network without being validated. By doing so, users can only access the areas of a network that they need to perform their role.
Verification protocols can also manage which users, devices and applications can access the network and specific systems. This level of control can significantly reduce network exposure, preventing attackers from reaching areas of the network where valuable data is stored. High-level users with full access must also adhere to security best practices to prevent their login credentials from falling into the wrong hands.
Third-party penetration testing is highly recommendedto assume the role of a would-be attacker, identifying vulnerabilities that may be missed by an in-house cybersecurity team. Meanwhile, data and assets assumed to be likely targets for cybercriminals should be encrypted and given additional layers of protection, such as two-factor authentication.
Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure – Conclusion
The critical infrastructure industry has suffered from too many cybersecurity concerns, primarily how implementing modern tools may put data at risk. Because of this, many large organizations across the U.S. have persevered with outdated systems, delaying the modernization of their operations.
Fortunately, better cybersecurity can allow organizations to adopt new technologies and systems to provide a better and more sustainable service. Of course, this is likely to require significant investment, but the long-term return and reduced costs for the consumer will make it worthwhile.
Real-time data analytics is one of the key concerns regarding data privacy, but with effective measures in place, critical infrastructure will become more reliable and robust, ensuring the demand for services, electricity and water is met.