In-depth

CNI: employers, not hackers, are the real risk

Inside the enterprise: Carelessness, not conspiracy, could prove the greatest threat to national infrastructure.

Powerlines

There's been no shortage of security advice for businesses recently. Earlier this month, GCHQ and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills issued guidance for corporations on how to protect themselves from cybercrime.

And this week, companies running parts of the critical national infrastructure, or CNI, have come in for scrutiny and so has the behaviour of their staff, with a new guidance document produced by the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure and PA Consulting, a management consulting firm.

Governments around the world have started to worry that critical national infrastructure, including power, water and transport, has become a target for both cybercriminals and for foreign governments keen to disrupt a potential adversary, or an economic rival.

The idea that a government, or groups associated with them, might attack another nation's CNI has led to organisations, such as NATO, putting cyber warfare higher up their agenda.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

Security groups have also started to discuss the idea of a Geneva Convention for cybersecurity: governments might agree, for example, that hospitals should never be attacked by a virus, or a distributed denial of service attack.

But the definition of national infrastructure is broadening as governments and security agencies realise how much different parts of the economy depend on each other.

Electricity or water might be obvious critical infrastructure, as are transport and healthcare. Equally, though, fuel is critical and so are fuel deliveries; we all need to eat, but without banks or even cash machines, people cannot buy food. The result is that more companies' systems are critical, on a national level, than their IT managers might initially think.

According to Bill Windle, one of the co-authors of the report and a security specialist at PA Consulting, this is illustrated by studies in the US that suggest big cities would start to lose vital services just a day and a half after a power outage, as equipment for pumping water or sewage stop working.

A cyber attack, though, is not the only way critical infrastructure might fail. Sometimes, as Windle points out, problems are caused not so much by bad people, but by good people trying to cut corners or make honest mistakes. There is also the danger, he says, that some employees will engage in "counterproductive behaviour" if they think no-one is watching.

The result is a document called HoMER, for holistic management of employee risk. The guidance spans the accidental or foolish such as sharing passwords to fraud or theft, or installing malware on employers' systems. But the guidance is not just about controlling employees' actions: it also encourages staff to think more about information security, and also challenge behaviour they spot that could be unsafe.

Advertisement - Article continues below

"In IT security, people are always the weak link," says Windle. "If you look at Stuxnet, that was an advanced technical attack, but it was also designed to spread via USB. There will always be attempts to exploit social engineering or human actors."

It may be one more document to add to the reading list, but as the guidance suggests, safety is as much about creating trust between the employer and employee as it is about building ever higher walls.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro

Featured Resources

Digitally perfecting the supply chain

How new technologies are being leveraged to transform the manufacturing supply chain

Download now

Three keys to maximise application migration and modernisation success

Harness the benefits that modernised applications can offer

Download now

Your enterprise cloud solutions guide

Infrastructure designed to meet your company's IT needs for next-generation cloud applications

Download now

The 3 approaches of Breach and Attack Simulation technologies

A guide to the nuances of BAS, helping you stay one step ahead of cyber criminals

Download now
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/malware/33080/hackers-abuse-linkedin-dms-to-plant-malware
malware

Hackers abuse LinkedIn DMs to plant malware

25 Feb 2019
Visit/security/malware/28083/the-five-best-free-malware-removal-tools
Security

Best free malware removal tools 2019

23 Dec 2019
Visit/security/internet-security/354417/avast-and-avg-extensions-pulled-from-chrome
internet security

Avast and AVG extensions pulled from Chrome

19 Dec 2019
Visit/security/354156/google-confirms-android-cameras-can-be-hijacked-to-spy-on-you
Security

Google confirms Android cameras can be hijacked to spy on you

20 Nov 2019

Most Popular

Visit/business-strategy/public-sector/354608/uk-gov-launches-ps300000-sen-edtech-initiative
public sector

UK gov launches £300,000 SEN EdTech initiative

22 Jan 2020
Visit/operating-systems/25802/17-windows-10-problems-and-how-to-fix-them
operating systems

17 Windows 10 problems - and how to fix them

13 Jan 2020
Visit/business-strategy/mergers-and-acquisitions/354602/xerox-to-nominate-directors-to-hps-board-reports
mergers and acquisitions

Xerox to nominate directors to HP's board – reports

22 Jan 2020
Visit/network-internet/web-browser/354614/microsoft-developer-declares-its-time-to-ditch-ie-for-edge
web browser

Microsoft developer declares it's time to ditch IE for Edge

23 Jan 2020