Security Experts:

Department of Energy, McAfee Outline Critical Infrastructure Risks

A new report from McAfee and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory lays out some of the security challenges facing critical infrastructure companies in the United States.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is one of the United States Department of Energy National Laboratories, which is managed by the Department of Energy's Office of Science. In the report, PNNL and McAfee outline the risks and vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure systems, and propose solutions to how organizations can better manage and secure their control systems.

Critical Infrastructure Cyber Attacks“When early critical infrastructure systems were created, neither security nor misuse of the interconnected network was considered,” said Philip A. Craig Jr., senior cyber security research scientist and a researcher within the National Security Directorate at PNNL, in a statement. “Today, we are still focused on enhancing the security of control systems. Outdated security methods that use a maze of disparate, multi-vendor, and stacked security tools will only delay a cyber attack, providing numerous opportunities for a more advanced and modern cyber adversary to attack cyber security postures throughout critical infrastructure.”

In the report, PNNL identified the following vulnerabilities to control systems environments:

  • Increased Exposure: Communication networks linking smart grid devices and systems will create many more access points to these devices, resulting in an increased exposure to potential attacks.
  • Interconnectivity: Communication networks will be more interconnected, further exposing the system to possible failures and attacks.
  • Complexity: The electric system will become significantly more complex as more subsystems are linked together.
  • Common Computing Technologies: Smart grid systems will increasingly use common, commercially available computing technologies and will be subject to their weaknesses.
  • Increased Automation: Communication networks will generate, gather, and use data in new and innovative ways as smart grid technologies will automate many functions. Improper use of this data presents new risks to national security and our economy.

 “Infrastructures that control systems affecting our everyday lives, such as smart grids, are rising in adoption yet still lack the proper security needed to prevent sophisticated cyber attacks,” said Dr. Phyllis Scheck, chief technology officer for the Global Public Sector at McAfee, in a statement. “Achieving security by design is essential in securing critical infrastructure. Cybersecurity must be embedded into the systems and networks at the very beginning of the design process so that it becomes an integral part of the systems functioning.”

“SCADA networks are the most unprotected networks of all and now cyber-criminals have them in their sights,” noted Marc Solomon, Chief Marketing Officer at Sourcefire in a recent SecurityWeek column. “If they get access, the consequences for many organizations, their customers and perhaps the population at large, could be extremely damaging.”

Related Reading: A New Cyber Security Model for SCADA

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