Study: Critical Infrastructure Often Under Cyberattack

Computer systems that run the world's critical infrastructure are not a secure as they should be, according to a new report

Computer systems that run the world's critical infrastructure are not as secure as they should be and insiders are mad.

That's according to a new survey released Monday that asked management, network engineers and administrators in nine infrastructure industries about the state of cyber security in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Insiders felt that all of these industries, save financial services, were unprepared for cyberattacks. These unready industries included: water, utilities, oil and gas, telecommunications, transportation, emergency services, chemical and the shipping industry.

And that's bad news because more than half of them said that their companies had already been hit with some sort of cyber incident, data leak, or insider attack. Another 14 percent said they were expecting something like this to happen in the next year. "None of them thought that they were very prepared for either insider threats or data leakage," said Elan Winkler, director of critical infrastructure solutions with Secure Computing.

About 90 percent of the survey's 199 respondents were directly employed in infrastructure industry with the other 10 percent listed some other occupation such as academic or consultant. Winkler's company paid for the study, which was produced by IDC's Energy Insights. IDC is owned by the IDG News Service's parent company, International Data Group.

Although there have been scattered reports of computer compromises affecting critical infrastructure, most companies keep this kind of information secret because it is considered to be potentially embarrassing.

That's not the case in the IT security industry, which often prides itself on the open disclosure of information, and there is often a culture clash between IT security folks who push to make security information public, and more conservative utility security workers, who worry that this kind of knowledge could be misused.

The Energy Insights survey found that many insiders are dissatisfied with the lack of preparedness within their own industries. About three quarters of respondents said they were "annoyed, angry or frustrated" with the state of critical infrastructure security, Winkler said.

"These are the people who actually know what's going on and they're unhappy," she said. "That, to me was a real surprise"

Some industries are farther along than others, Winkler said. Financial, energy and telecommunications are the most prepared, she said. While the water industry, shipping, and transportation industries were rated least-ready.

However, the Energy sector was considered the most in need of improved security because it is the biggest, most vulnerable and easiest to breach, respondents said.

Cost was ranked as the biggest impediment to security, Winkler said.

Industries that have already seen how a major disaster can affect their bottom line are more likely to have a serious risk analysis models that take things like cybersecurity into account, said Eric Byres,] chief technology officer with Byres security, a critical infrastructure security consultancy. "What I'm seeing is that there is a real mix," he said. "Some companies are really on the ball, and then I see other companies that are very much in the dark, who don't get it."

The companies that are prepared for the next cyber attack are the ones that have buy-in from the bosses, Byres said. "It really gets driven from the upper management," he said.

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