Secure Computing’s Cyber Security Study Reveals Sobering Results

Industry insiders say critical infrastructure is not prepared for cyber attacks and recommend that asset owners and operators begin by taking five steps to enhance their security.

SAN JOSE, CA –  Secure Computing Corp., a leading enterprise gateway security company, announced the results of a study conducted during August and September 2008 in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The study surveyed 199 international security experts and other “industry insiders” from utilities, oil and gas, financial services, government, telecommunications, transportation, and other critical infrastructure industries. Despite a growing body of legislation and regulation, more than half of these experts believed that most critical infrastructure continues to be vulnerable to cyber attack. Further, a majority of respondents said that major attacks have already begun or are likely to occur in the next 12 months.

“An attack on any one of these industries could cause widespread economic disruptions, major environmental disasters, loss of property, and even loss of life,” said Elan Winkler, Director of Critical Infrastructure Solutions for Secure Computing. “This study revealed that many critical infrastructure organizations are simply not ready for the cyber attacks which are coming soon.”

Rick Nicholson, Vice President of Research for Energy Insights, an IDC company, who authored a white paper based on the survey, added, “Most utility CIOs believe that their companies will be compliant with relevant standards, but still have a long way to go before being adequately prepared for all cyber attacks.”

In the study, respondents were asked to indicate the state of readiness for eight different industries. More than 50% of respondents believed that utilities, oil and gas, transportation, telecommunications, chemical, emergency services, and postal/shipping industries were not prepared. For some sectors, such as postal/shipping and transportation, as many as three out of four experts indicated that the infrastructure was not ready for attack. Only the financial services industry was considered prepared, although nearly 40% believed that even this sector was not ready to defend itself.

Survey participants were also asked which industry was the biggest target, which was the most vulnerable to attack, and which was the most detrimental if breached. The insiders picked the energy sector in all three cases, with 33% saying it was the biggest target, 30% saying it was the most vulnerable, and 42% saying it would be the most detrimental if attacked.

When asked to name the biggest bottleneck to improving cyber security, the largest number of experts (29%) pointed to the cost of security measures. Apathy was the second most likely to be selected as the primary bottleneck, with government bureaucracy and internal issues tying for third.

Risk of Cyber Attack Likely to Grow
Study participants from North America were also asked how soon major exploits of critical infrastructure would occur. More than 50% answered that the attacks had already begun. Another 14% said a major exploit was likely in the next 12 months, while only 2% said such an exploit would never occur.

At the same time that attacks are becoming more likely, many networks are becoming less secure. Energy Insights identified three trends that are likely to increase the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in the future:

  • Interconnectivity among networks will expand. Already 62% of North American respondents said that their control systems were directly connected to an IP-based network or the Internet. A full 98% of respondents believed this makes them more vulnerable.
  • Intelligent grid and similar initiatives will continue to grow. As companies deploy new technologies, such as smart meters, sensors and advanced communications networks, they run the risk of increasing their vulnerability unless they include security as an integral part of the projects.
  • Cost-cutting efforts will not go away. During times of economic hardship, organizations are expected to increase their use of standard IT platforms, further increasing their vulnerability to attack.

Recommendations Based on Study Findings
The Energy Insights white paper sponsored by Secure Computing recommends that critical infrastructure asset owners and operators take five steps toward greater cyber security:

  • Performing ongoing vulnerability assessments
  • Vigilant monitoring of network automation and control systems
  • Sharing information about threats and attacks through the industry Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), such as the electricity sector ISAC and up the chain of command within organizations
  • Taking an enterprise approach that includes both information technology and operations technology environments
  • Thinking beyond regulatory compliance

As a global leader in cyber security, Secure Computing provides a number of resources to help organizations address these issues. With more than 14 years experience protecting critical infrastructure networks in 31 countries, Secure Computing has accumulated a wealth of research, educational materials, tools, expert advice, and other materials that it is making available online.

Secure Computing is hosting a live webcast on November 12 at 2:00 p.m. EST, “Critical Infrastructure Threats Revealed,” featuring Energy Insights’ Rick Nicholson to review the cyber security study findings and recommendations. Visit the company’s Web site to register and to obtain a copy of the Energy Insights white paper.

Source: Secure Computing Corp.

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