When it comes to protecting critical infrastructure like public utilities, you have to consider the potential threats facing the field. Security planning is not worth the time and investment spent if it fails to consider essential aspects of the utility infrastructure risks. Truly safeguarding public utility infrastructure means addressing physical security, cybersecurity, and ongoing maintenance concerns as part of an integrated approach. The reality is that outdated or poorly maintained transmission systems can be just as much of a threat to critical infrastructure as third-party software security vulnerabilities.
Effective infrastructure protection planning like this can be applied to electrical utilities, water treatment and distribution facilities and networks, internet service providers, gas providers, and more. Private corporations, state and municipal government entities, and even publicly traded companies can all be responsible for safeguarding public utility infrastructure, depending on the types of facilities and regions of the country we're looking at.
Threat Specific Approaches
Before we get into techniques and methods for better securing electrical utility and other public utility infrastructure facilities, it is imperative that your security planning includes detailed, structured incident response plans that your personnel are frequently trained on and are regularly updated. Every tactic we recommend will touch on this cornerstone in some way, and failing to have a plan in place will not only ensure that you end up relying primarily on luck, but it will also make it more difficult to demonstrate that you truly took your critical infrastructure security seriously.
Whether we're talking about solar storms, wildfires, landslides, floods, or other natural disasters, Mother Nature hosts many potentially devastating threats to our critical infrastructure. Knowing what to expect in this arena is half of the battle, and the other half is properly monitoring conditions in an effort to mitigate damage.
This can be accomplished with the right advanced surveillance and intrusion equipment which allows you to couple two major areas of infrastructure protection together. Surveillance cameras, audio sensors, and other physical security measures can be used to monitor for adverse weather events or environmental conditions that may be affecting the site. Harnessing software that allows scanning of open source media set to keywords and locations that impact your facilities can alert your security staff to impending changes in conditions to set your response plans in motion.
Underground utilities, transmission lines, pipelines, and other infrastructure all age and break down at differing rates. Some of the environmental aspects we mentioned just before cause increased deterioration rates of some materials in certain areas. Having a rehabilitation plan for your critical infrastructure before it needs repair helps prevent unexpected complications. Routine inspection of these utilities also helps to identify areas of concern before they break down. This can be done by a third-party vendor, manually by your own staff, or even remotely using drones or other technology in more remote areas. There are many possibilities, and all are valid; what matters is that you are actively monitoring the condition of your infrastructure.
Terrorism and criminal activity pose dangers to utilities, and safeguarding public utility infrastructure from those threats can look very similar depending on the attack vector used by the bad actors. Government agencies have recognized this and have implemented minimum standards for many public utility industries. Even individual states such as California have codified requirements to secure utilities against terrorist attacks. These targeted attacks on critical infrastructure can be broken down into two overall types: physical and cyber.
Physical attacks involve individuals taking physical action against some segment of public utility infrastructure. This may be something like the multiple documented rifle attacks against electrical generating stations in the U.S., or it could be a simple burglary of a substation by criminals searching for copper pipe or wiring. Even events that are strictly for criminal profit in nature have the ability to cause substantial damage to the utility's ability to continue operations at the facility.
As we mentioned above, there are advanced surveillance systems that harness AI and machine learning that can act as force multipliers across a widely dispersed physical infrastructure network. These systems include audio monitoring and cameras that can learn the sounds typical at their deployed location, detect objects larger than common wildlife, and then alert monitoring staff only when something outside the norm is detected. Coupled with thermal sensors and intrusion detection systems, you can build a truly resilient physical security plan for your sites that leverages technology to your best advantage.
Cybersecurity presents its own set of threats. The intersection between OT and IT is of particular concern. Many operational technology systems were not designed with cybersecurity in mind but had security features bolted on after the fact. When OT and IT systems are connected, compromise of a poorly secured legacy OT system can result in the loss of data, control of the system, or lead to ransomware attacks.
With the wide attack surface that cyber attackers can take advantage of, it is often beneficial to consider tapping outside experts to manage or at least consult on your cybersecurity posture. At Venture Lynk Risk Management, we aren't only vendor risk management specialists. We have a full team of cybersecurity experts who can help with risk assessments, cyber security reports, and even daily cyber risk monitoring. Let our staff design a custom package for your needs.