Protecting critical infrastructure from cyber threats is the shared responsibility of the federal government, the provinces and territories and the private sector. Yet information sharing between these groups is weak and established processes for working together are few.
Canada’s critical infrastructure elements include societal basics such as water, transportation, energy and telecommunications services. Most are owned by the private sector or by municipal, provincial or territorial governments, and much is connected to other critical infrastructure systems.
The recent 2012 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada states that cyber threats and electronic attacks through the Internet have been increasing in frequency and severity. The federal government is concerned that the cyber threat environment is evolving more quickly than its current ability to keep pace.
The federal government is making progress in its efforts to lead and coordinate the protection of Canada’s critical infrastructure from cyber threats. In 2010 it announced the Cyber Security Strategy and the National Strategy and Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure; however, the Auditor General reports that the government’s ability to detect emerging threats and share related information among all stakeholders could be improved.
Similarly, Symantec’s 2011 Global Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Survey indicated that critical infrastructure providers around the world are less engaged with their government’s CIP programs, less worried about the threats, and less ready to withstand attacks than previous years.
The Symantec data showed that just 35 percent of Canadian respondents rated themselves as “completely aware” of their government’s CIP programs, with only 30 percent saying that they were actively engaged in one of these programs. When asked to voice their opinion about government-sponsored CIP programs, 50 percent of Canadians chose “neutral” or “no opinion.” Further, just 55 percent of Canadian respondents said they were willing to cooperate with government CIP programs.
A perceived decrease in attacks may have created a false sense of security for Canada’s critical infrastructure providers. The 2011 survey also revealed that organizations were experiencing fewer threats than they did the year prior. Overall, just 37 percent reported being attacked in at least one manner, versus more than 50 percent the year prior.
Symantec has monitored a global decrease in the frequency of “spray and pray” style SPAM and phishing tactics; however, the company has also noticed a marked increase in both frequency and sophistication of targeted attacks.
What is most disturbing is the rise of targeted attacks against small- and mid-sized businesses, presumably the weak link in the supply chain leading to a more desirable critical infrastructure partner.
Canadian companies and organizations of all sizes, especially those that are a critical infrastructure provider or are within the supply chain to a critical infrastructure provider, could stand to adopt a more proactive approach to protecting themselves against cyber attacks.
This can be accomplished in a number of different ways, including the following:
- Develop and enforce IT policies and automate compliance processes;
- Protect information proactively by taking an information-centric approach to protect both information and interactions;
- Manage systems by implementing secure operating environments;
- Protect the infrastructure by securing endpoints, messaging and web environments;
- Ensure 24×7 availability;
- Develop an information management strategy that includes an information retention plan and policies;
- Develop and implement patch remediation policies and procedures; and
- Develop and implement policies and procedures related to mobile devices and BYOD.
Canada’s governments should ensure their own infrastructures are as impenetrable as possible. In addition, they can engage participants in critical infrastructure protection programs as follows:
- Continue to put forth the necessary resources to support critical infrastructure programs;
- Partner with industry associations and private enterprise groups to share information and raise awareness of CIP organizations and plans; and
- Emphasize that security is not enough. Governments should educate critical infrastructure providers and enterprises that their information must be stored, backed up, organized, prioritized, and that proper identity and access control processes are in place.
By establishing more robust policies and procedures to protect against critical infrastructure cyber attacks, and ensuring regular engagement between industry and the government, threats can more readily be identified and eliminated.
Sean Forkan is country manager for Symantec Canada, where he helps to secure and manage an information-driven world (Sean_Forkan@symantec.com).