Everything You Need to Know about Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP)

Image showing a lock with a hand in the background and the word "cybersecurity" written around the lock 4 times.
We must protect critical infrastructure at all costs.
Source: TheDigitalArtist on Pixabay

Governments must protect their critical infrastructures, such as electricity distribution grids, oil and gas pipelines, etc., as they’re the respective nation’s lifelines. The last few years have seen growing threats to these infrastructures, such as natural disasters, terrorist activities, and cyberattacks. Consequently, organizations are adopting the critical infrastructure protection (CIP) strategy.

In this article, I’ll explain what critical infrastructure protection is, how it works, and how you can implement it using different tools, processes, and policies. Let’s start with the basics!

What Is Critical Infrastructure Protection?

Critical infrastructure protection refers to the processes and tools involved in protecting the infrastructure security of critical sectors against natural and manmade disasters. In particular, critical infrastructure cybersecurity has taken center stage after attacks like those on a Florida water plant, the Colonial Pipeline, etc.

That said, CIP isn’t easy to implement. This is because private players often run these national assets, which results in a gap between social and business needs. Moreover, legal complications and extensive investments complicate the implementation of critical infrastructure cybersecurity. Now, if you’re wondering how CIP became so complicated, let’s step back and look at how it came to be.

The History of Critical Infrastructure Protection 

CIP traces its roots back to May 1998 when President Bill Clinton issued the PDD-63 directive, a document containing a list of critical national infrastructure and ways to protect it. As a part of this process, the US government identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors and assigned a government agency and department to protect each of them. Specifically, these 16 sectors are:

  • Chemicals
  • Commercial Facilities
  • Communications
  • Critical Manufacturing
  • Dams
  • Defense Industrial Base
  • Emergency Services
  • Energy
  • Financial Services
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Government Facilities
  • Healthcare and Public Health
  • Information Technology
  • Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste
  • Transportation Systems
  • Water and Wastewater Systems

Recently, election systems have also made it to this list. 

A cyberattack on critical infrastructures can have severe consequences for an entire country. It can even impact national security and integrity. As mentioned earlier, implementing CIP isn’t easy due to the conflict of interest between governments and private players. CIP helps strike a balance between both parties. Specifically, the government issues a broad set of guidelines, and the private players can implement these guidelines using the best-suited technology. Now that you have a brief understanding of what CIP is and how it came to be, let’s look at how it works.

How Critical Infrastructure Protection Works 

A successful critical infrastructure protection strategy requires a systematic and methodical approach. Implementing it is also a shared responsibility between government and private sector players based on collaboration and information sharing. 

The exact working of a CIP strategy may vary depending on ownership, regulations, and anticipated threats. That said, let’s look at some aspects that are common across all sectors.

Goals and Scope

Every CIP strategy has one or more specific goals and objectives based on its existing operational environment, cultural beliefs, etc. Based on these goals and objectives, every CIP strategy will also have a scope of work where you’ll accordingly assign roles and responsibilities.

Risk Management

With goals and scope in place, you’ll create a risk management framework. This framework evaluates the risks and their likely impact and lays down the steps for their mitigation. The framework also helps in quick decision-making and sets priorities for all stakeholders.

Assessments

After assessing the risks and the prevention and mitigation measures to counter them, it’s time to assess their effectiveness. To do this, you can conduct drills and tests on the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure to identify the existing gaps. Accordingly, you can plug the gaps with appropriate measures and tools, such as a firewall.

Training and Education

Training and education are essential parts of a CIP strategy. Both must reach all stakeholders, including first responders, infrastructure operators, and even the public, if necessary. Discussion-based workshops, hands-on drills, facilitated discussions with stakeholders, and more all fall under this aspect.

Metrics

Along with the above-mentioned aspects, you must also establish metrics like the number of thwarted attacks, identified and fixed security vulnerabilities, etc. Furthermore, continuously monitor your CIP against these metrics to help detect deviations.

Implementing the above requires the right tools and technologies. Let’s dive into those now!

Top Critical Infrastructure Protection Tools and Technologies

Implementing cybersecurity for critical infrastructure is complex and unique to each sector. Undoubtedly, your CIP will vary according to the sector, its regulations, the nature of its operations, etc. Below are common tools and technologies you can use to implement a CIP strategy.

Deep Content Disarm and Reconstruction (Deep CDR)

Deep CDR starts with the assumption that every file has malicious intent. Therefore, to counter this, it sanitizes and rebuilds the content of each file that enters your network. One major advantage is that it safeguards your system against known and unknown threats.

Sandboxing

A sandbox is an isolated environment where you can run untested and third-party applications. Often, organizations run unknown applications in sandboxes before integrating them with the environment. This can help in avoiding any undesirable outcomes or cyberattacks.

Image showing a play sandbox containing a toy truck.
Run unknown applications in sandboxes to avoid threats.
Source: mari_di_ann on Pixabay

Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence is a machine-learning (ML) strategy that continuously analyzes attack patterns. It also strives to look for matching patterns in any attack. In turn, this intelligence helps you quickly identify known and unknown cyberattacks so that you can mitigate them immediately.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

Organizations can use well-known DLP tools to protect their sensitive information from unauthorized access. In the process, these tools also reduce insider attacks and espionage attacks on your critical infrastructure. 

Endpoint Security

Endpoint security encompasses many critical infrastructure cybersecurity strategies to protect endpoints from cyberattacks. One of these is an endpoint vulnerability assessment, which ensures all endpoints have the latest operating system and application versions. Another strategy involves removing Potentially Unwanted Applications (PLAs) to reduce the chances of vulnerabilities and the resulting breaches. Moreover, these strategies ensure compliance with established governmental and organizational security policies.

Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs)

NGFWs are important tools for creating and ensuring critical infrastructure cybersecurity. These tools constantly monitor your network to identify traffic pattern changes in real-time and report the same. They can also block malicious packets from entering your network, which helps prevent cyberattacks. Furthermore, they allow you to apply granular security policies across the entire infrastructure.

Overall, you can use a combination of the above tools to enhance your critical infrastructure cybersecurity. Along with these tools, you’ll need sound cybersecurity policies. You should align these policies with your organization’s security goals. Additionally, assigning roles and responsibilities for creating, implementing, and monitoring these policies can further protect your critical infrastructure.

Before we end, here’s a quick recap.

Final Words

To conclude, critical infrastructure encompasses all the grids, pipelines, and cables that provide essential services for a country’s residents. Some examples of critical infrastructure include drinking and wastewater supply systems, electricity, etc. Given their importance to national security, you must implement critical infrastructure protection to protect them from any threat. To achieve this, you can use a combination of technologies and tools, such as sandboxes and endpoint security.

Do you have more questions about critical infrastructure protection? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

Why is critical infrastructure protection important?

Critical infrastructure includes networks and systems that provide essential facilities such as water and power. Therefore, an attack on these facilities will have nationwide consequences. A cyberattack on these systems can also compromise national security. Due to these reasons, having a CIP is important.

Should I document my critical infrastructure protection?

Yes, you must document your CIP for posterity and continuity. To clarify, write down your cybersecurity plan, policies, procedures, and other pertinent information. Also, you should continuously update these documents to reflect the latest state. 

Do national governments run critical infrastructures?

This depends on the country. In the US, private companies or companies in a public-private partnership run the most critical infrastructures. Regardless of who runs it, the national government is responsible for national security, so it issues guidelines and directives on securing critical infrastructure.

When was the Critical Infrastructure Protection program created?

It came into play in May 1998 when US President Bill Clinton issued the PDD-63 directive. The document contains all the critical infrastructure sectors and how to protect them. Some of these sectors include dams, emergency services, and communications.

What is the best technology or tool to use with a critical infrastructure protection strategy?

Instead of focusing on one tool, it’s a good idea to use multiple tools and technologies. Using a combination of the previously mentioned tools provides comprehensive protection over just using one.

Resources

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