IT Brief UK - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
Story image
A cyber resilience guide to securing critical infrastructure
Tue, 24th Oct 2023

In a day and age where data breaches and cyber threats loom large, safeguarding critical infrastructure has become paramount. As the threat landscape continues to evolve, adopting a proactive cybersecurity stance is not just important—it's an absolute necessity. Cybersecurity Awareness Month serves as a timely reminder of the criticality of vigilance in the face of ever-evolving digital threats.

Lessons from Notable Breaches

When it comes to cybersecurity, one axiom remains steadfast: you can't protect what you can't see. This is particularly relevant for UK-based critical infrastructure organisations tasked with managing both Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). A comprehensive understanding of every asset and device connected to your network is imperative. Without this, you're essentially navigating in the dark, leaving your organisation susceptible to vulnerabilities that may go unnoticed.

Consider the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack that significantly impacted the UK's National Health Service (NHS). This breach underscored the importance of visibility in critical infrastructure. The attack exploited vulnerabilities in outdated systems, emphasising the need for comprehensive asset management and security updates.

Comprehensive visibility extends beyond just your organisation's immediate environment. It encompasses the broader digital ecosystem within which you operate. This includes third-party vendors, supply chain partners, and any other businesses, services or products with connections to your network. Identifying and managing potential vulnerabilities in this extended network is crucial for a resilient cybersecurity posture.

For example, a 2018 data breach of a global airliner, which exposed the personal information of nearly 500,000 customers, highlighted the need for robust third-party risk management. Understanding the cybersecurity practices of vendors and partners in your extended network is essential for safeguarding critical infrastructure.

Mitigating Insider Threats: Building a Human Firewall

While external threats frequently capture headlines, insider threats can be equally insidious. Unfortunately, they are often only discovered when it's too late. Cyber espionage and social engineering attacks have the potential to be devastating, as malicious actors exploit the trust placed in your own team. With the critical infrastructure sectors in the UK increasingly targeted by nation-state threat actors, employee awareness and training, combined with zero-trust security measures, are your initial lines of defence against these covert threats.

Additionally, employee training and awareness programs should be tailored to the unique challenges faced by the organisation. These should cover the basics of cyber hygiene and delve into industry-specific scenarios and threat vectors. Encourage a culture of cybersecurity vigilance, where employees understand their role in protecting the organisation's digital defences.

Guarding the Gateway to Productivity

At the heart of daily operations, businesses rely heavily on web applications for sharing and transferring critical documents. Yet, these productivity files - be they word documents, spreadsheets, or PDFs - can unwittingly serve as attack vectors for cybercriminals. Malware can be embedded within these files, delivering malicious payloads to unsuspecting users. According to OPSWAT's 2023 State of Web Application Security Report, data breaches are the primary concern (73%), with reputation damage (67%) and loss in business revenue (58%) following closely behind.

Understanding the compliance and regulatory landscape is key. Ensuring that your organisation's cybersecurity measures align with industry-specific standards and legal requirements is best practice and a legal obligation. This includes adherence to data protection laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and any sector-specific cybersecurity regulations. Compliance is often your first defence against malicious documentation. 

Staying Ahead of the Adversary

Today's threat actors are exceptionally adept, using malware as an initial foothold to infiltrate targeted infrastructure and execute their attacks. To effectively combat these threats, organisations must embrace actionable threat intelligence. This intelligence is derived from cutting-edge technologies and processes, including sandboxes and advanced malware analysis. By staying one step ahead of threat actors, organisations can detect and respond to threats before they escalate into crises.

Collaboration and information sharing within the industry and with relevant authorities can be helpful. Engaging with industry-specific information sharing and analysis centres (ISACs) and other cybersecurity forums can help to inform leaders of emerging threats and vulnerabilities that are particularly relevant to the UK critical infrastructure landscape.

Adapting in the Face of Rapid Change: A Call to Action

The cybersecurity landscape is evolving at an alarming pace, demanding that organisations adapt accordingly. Comprehensive visibility, employee awareness, proactive threat hunting, and actionable threat intelligence stand as indispensable pillars of a robust cybersecurity strategy. These are just a few of the critical areas that organisations should keep in mind as they fortify their cybersecurity resilience.

As we celebrate Cybersecurity Awareness Month, let's not just focus on the present but also look ahead. By implementing these best practices, you're not only protecting your organisation's critical infrastructure, but you're also contributing to a more secure digital landscape for all. Staying vigilant, informed, and united - we can protect our digital future together.