We all rely on a range of services to carry on our daily lives, even if the COVID-19 pandemic has led many of us to question what is really critical in our personal lives. Similarly, organizations will have systems, networks and assets that have, over time, become critical to their survival.
These therefore need to be as secure as possible.
As the name implies, critical infrastructure needs protection and that includes digital as well as physical elements. Security Operations Centres (SOCs) act as vital defence systems for these digital elements, whether implemented as standalone SOCs for a single enterprise or provided as a managed service by a third party.
But what counts as critical infrastructure? How are they vulnerable to cyberattacks? And why is it important to protect them?
Definitions of critical infrastructure
Different countries define their critical infrastructure in different ways. However, as the name implies, it is any infrastructure perceived by a nation as being critical for sustaining its economy, prosperity, security and societal norms.
The UK, for example – where it is referred to as critical national infrastructure (CNI) – defines it as:
Those facilities, systems, sites, information, people, networks and processes necessary for a country to function and upon which daily life depends. It also includes some functions, sites and organisations which are not critical to the maintenance of essential services, but which need protection due to the potential danger to the public (civil nuclear and chemical sites, for example).1
Most nations group critical infrastructure into sectors. These typically include: chemicals, civil nuclear, communications, defence, emergency services, energy, finance, food, government, health, space, transport and water.
Many of these sectors then have subsectors – for example transport includes roads, rail, air and maritime – and are a combination of large and small organizations in both the public and private sectors.
Why does it matter if critical infrastructure isn’t secure?
If critical infrastructure is disrupted or degraded – or, worse still, lost altogether – it’s inevitable that this will have an impact on a nation’s ability to function normally in some way or other:
- Utilities such as electricity and water could be inaccessible.
- Government could find itself unable to communicate or respond to nationally significant incidents.
- Businesses could struggle to operate.
Any of these will directly or indirectly affect some or all of the people in that country. And that’s why critical infrastructure needs to be completely secure at all times – including from cyberattacks.