Applying digital and analytical innovation to make America’s infrastructure more resilient


The critical infrastructure that Americans rely on every day for electricity, transportation, water, connectivity and more has reached a perfect storm of vulnerability.

Threats are growing in scale and sophistication, as we saw in the recent attack on the colonial pipeline. These include interferences with positioning, navigation and synchronization (PNT) systems such as GPS, concerns about the impact of electromagnetic pulse attacks on power grids and equipment, and hacks into communication systems. industrial control of municipal water supplies, as recently as Oldsmar, Florida. Meanwhile, the attack surface itself has expanded exponentially with the decision to classify satellites, sensors, and command and control systems for space assets as critical infrastructure.

However, we see government agencies responding in a myriad of important and powerful ways. In the past year alone, the Science and Technology Branch of the Department of Homeland Security recently released PNT resources and algorithms to protect against GPS identity theft. The Department of Energy has launched a 100-day plan for the DOE, the electricity industry, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to improve the cybersecurity of industrial control systems (ICS) in public utilities. electricity and energy sector supply chain. We have also seen Space Policy Directive-5 place DHS and CISA in leading roles to improve the country’s cyber defenses for key systems used for global communications, navigation, weather monitoring and others. critical services. These developments strengthen and augment EO 13865, which sets standards for resiliency and security for U.S. critical infrastructure as a national priority.

As we move in the right direction, here’s a look at why critical infrastructure is so vulnerable today, why it’s so difficult to protect, and how federal IT leaders and infrastructure managers should use transformation. digital – especially data, analytics and smarter portfolio management – to make it more resilient and keep that momentum going.

Innovation drives disruption

As government agencies connect systems and adopt new technologies, they face a security challenge. Take smart buildings, for example. Through a connected network of digital devices, networks and applications, smart buildings serve as the link between the physical and digital worlds: they bring together key functionalities of connectivity, automation, open architecture and interoperability. to optimize the overall performance of buildings, businesses and their occupants.

Yet when an organization connects its systems to IP networks, external access, and the cloud, there is the potential for hackers to shut down entire business operations. Manipulating heating or cooling in temperature sensitive locations, such as shutting down vital temperature control or power management functions in a data center, can potentially destroy IT equipment and put offline critical applications.

What did such attacks look like in action? In one example, security researchers hacked into the building control system at a major Internet research provider, gaining administrative access to the building’s digital control panels. In another case, a security consultant was able to take control of every room in a Chinese hotel, a situation that malicious actors could use to their advantage for actions such as tampering with control systems and stealing data. client.

It’s not just buildings that are at risk. Consider the valuable surveillance and targeting data collected by marine vessel sensors. Attacks on networks to steal critical information are increasingly widespread and sophisticated. PNT solutions that support freighters in transit are other areas of potential attack.

It has been five years since unknown cyber forces first disrupted power grid operations, causing power outages for more than 225,000 customers in Ukraine. This incident impacted operators in the electricity sector, but the tactic could easily have played out in any sector: energy, transport, communications, or even space.

Electronic warfare also threatens physical infrastructure. Consider, for example, an attacker gaining unauthorized access to a physical security system connected to the Internet to allow kinetic attacks, or disrupting systems of cameras, digital recorders, or printers, as happened. produced with domain name system provider Dyn in Europe and North America.

New approaches to portfolio management

At the same time, federal agencies face many portfolio management challenges related to critical infrastructure. Fragmented ownership is one of them. The infrastructure of a water utility could be owned partly by the government, partly by a private sector partner and partly by an owner / operator. Who is responsible for cybersecurity and protection against other threats? How can all parties work together for system-wide resilience?

Given these complexities, agencies will need to take a flexible and adaptable approach to technology development, procurement and maintenance, working across silos and systems.

Another challenge is the nature of operational technology (TO). Many ICS systems, for example, were originally designed with an emphasis on reliability and security, not cybersecurity. Additionally, OT systems, unlike traditional IT systems, cannot be taken offline for long periods of time for vulnerability testing, patching, or risk assessments.

Specialized knowledge can speed up the process. Multidisciplinary teams, with ICS and security specialists, risk assessors and more, can dramatically reduce the time it takes to complete comprehensive FISMA-compliant cybersecurity assessments from four to six months, up to one. or two months.

Such expertise is also invaluable in monitoring the threat landscape. Teams with in-depth knowledge of OT and ICS system design, how systems work together, and vulnerabilities adversaries are likely to exploit are more likely to know what problems to look for and the best ways to resolve them. . Open source intelligence gathering, reverse engineering of attack vectors, and in-depth analyzes of attacks and associated incidents can provide vital information about where attacks are occurring, who carried them out, and what to do with them. mitigation needed to enhance security.

Make innovation part of the solution

Just as advanced technologies have increased threats to critical infrastructure, digital innovations have taken center stage to protect these vital assets. For example, GPS and the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems used to monitor and control ICS systems are both essential to power grids and power transmission. Tools such as war games and strategy simulations can be used to strengthen the protection of SCADA systems and can help system program offices modernize and augment GPS systems to increase resistance to disturbance.

Emerging technologies can also help us design and build more resilient infrastructure for the future and optimize our resources in this quest. For space systems, the concept of a “digital twin,” a kind of mirror model that synchronizes a physical object with a cybernetic representation, allows organizations to test satellites in different scenarios to identify vulnerabilities and develop protection strategies.

In the field of engineering and construction, advanced technologies such as drones, LiDAR and IoT systems are increasingly applied to produce rich data streams to improve efficiency and accuracy. planning, design, construction and maintenance. As these techniques evolve to transform traditional architectural engineering methods, this data can be used by AI to provide prescriptive advice to planners and portfolio managers and enable autonomous management of critical infrastructure in real time. When applied to the best practices in total cost management, we could see the rise of total cost management analysis and machine-guided analysis. These have the potential to overhaul traditional construction and maintenance processes, giving agencies the ability to do more with less.

Just as digital transformation threatens the security of buildings, power grids, satellite systems, etc., innovation can also be used to build resilience. These are just a few of the ways that data, analytics, and emerging technologies can help us protect our nation’s vast, ubiquitous, and critical critical infrastructure, but we must continue to implement them in order to secure some of our most vital and vulnerable assets.

Steve Buchanan is director of Booz Allen Hamilton.


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