Why cybersecurity for critical infrastructure matters: How to better protect your devices

Joe Morgan

Any device connected to a network may be susceptible for hackers to gain access to. Therefore, cybersecurity is a top priority for everyone. Unfortunately, all networked devices and systems can be vulnerable. When those devices are used in high-risk environments like critical infrastructure, the consequences of a breach could be more far-reaching, with the potential to take down much more than just a substation or other facility. It is essential that networked devices in these applications provide the level of security necessary to protect the overall system from the potentially catastrophic effects of a breach.

Recently I had a chance to chat with with Ryan Zatolokin, Business Development Manager, Senior Technologist, to answer some pertinent questions regarding cybersecurity, specifically why it’s vital in critical infrastructure, what are the potential risks and how organizations can mitigate risks in these networks.

Why should customers really care about cybersecurity in critical infrastructure? What could happen if they don’t consider it?

Joe: From a cyber standpoint, energy and power-generation are among the most targeted sectors because they’re the motor that runs other sectors. If the power goes out, that quickly impacts water, agriculture, transportation, telecommunications and the many other sectors that rely on power and energy to operate. So once that component is down, you have a total collapse.

Ryan: Organizations could be exposed to the point where someone could take down or significantly impact a system, including causing catastrophic failures that would affect people’s lives. Just look at the disruptions caused when storms knock out power systems. If somebody deliberately took down a system, it would have a similar impact.

What are some common cybersecurity concerns or types of attacks with critical infrastructure and other high-risk environments, and how likely are they to occur?

Ryan: Different attacks could happen. I think what people are most concerned about when it comes to IP surveillance cameras is that cybercriminals might try to use them as a platform to breach other parts of the critical infrastructure system. In turn, this could then be used as a hopping point to gather data to take down the system.

Joe:  We haven’t seen a lot of breach attempts in the oil and gas industries, but we’ve certainly seen situations where hackers have breached a network and created all sorts of problems on electrical substations. If they’re able to shut down the grid, there’s naturally going to be a trickle-down effect.

What are the first steps organizations should take to ensure the highest level of protection for these critical sites?

Ryan: It’s important to set and applying standards across systems. Organizations also need to have policies that ensure that best practices are followed throughout the organization. That means making sure they offer appropriate security features and can be hardened and updated through firmware.

Joe: Just like facilities develop a security site plan (SSP), companies are now implementing a cyber SSP as well. With an SSP, physical security is fairly fixed because you have a facility that you know where the boundaries and the vulnerability points are. With cyber, it’s more difficult because threats are ever-changing. Hackers want to cause a shutdown while constantly developing new ways to get in. The first step, as Ryan mentioned, is to assess processes and look at vulnerabilities—just like you would in an SSP—from a cyber standpoint, and then be diligent in keeping up with trends and changes with your cyberteams.

What one piece of advice would you give organizations pursuing cybersecurity for critical infrastructure sites?

Ryan: First, figure out what you have deployed, which is one of the biggest challenge’s organizations face. Sites should then develop processes and procedures for securing them by segmenting them, hardening them or isolating them in some way that protects them to the best of their ability. You also have to continually re-assess those policies and procedures to make sure they’re adequate for the threats that continue to emerge daily.

Joe:  Taking a simple approach, it is important to be diligent with your passwords. The first layer of preventing a hack is being able to prevent someone from getting in, and using strong passwords is a simple process for making it more difficult for someone to breach a device, system or network.

Take the steps for effective cybersecurity

Effective cybersecurity is about constantly assessing risks and taking appropriate steps to mitigate those threats. It’s about working with the right people, using the right products, taking advantage of the appropriate technology and implementing (and adhering to) the correct policies.

By keeping these in mind and cybersecurity in focus, you can be in better position to protect your critical site and its assets.

Ryan Zatolokin is the Business Development Manager, Senior Technologist for the business development team of Axis Communications. His primary focus is cybersecurity as well as positioning and promoting Axis technology in conjunction with the hardware and software technologies of eco-system partners. Ryan joined Axis in 2011 as a field sales engineer, bringing more than a decade of experience in network engineering on the systems integrator side of the industry. Ryan earned his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a specialty in computer information systems from Eastern Michigan University.