Securing the Critical Infrastructure
June 2010 – Information systems have evolved over the last two decades to a point where both commercial and government organizations have become heavily dependent on their uninterrupted operation to sustain day-to-day business.
While a multitude of factors, including physical, procedural, and operational security need to be considered in order to properly address the protection of the critical infrastructure, this news addresses only the cryptographic needs of the networked services from a practical perspective considering deployment and logistical issues.
Critical infrastructure is defined as the collection of public and private services that are essential to sustain government, provide for a safe living environment, maintain day-to-day business, and secure a prosperous economy. As shown below, they include both public and private enterprise services such as; government operations, banking and finance, telecommunications, emergency services, gas and oil, electric and energy, water, and transportation.
Government operations include the continuity of public services at the federal, state, and local levels, and encompass everything from national defense to community safety, civil order, and public health and welfare.
Banking and finance take account of the continuity of commercial activity including
safekeeping of deposits, availability of financing services, and the continued exchange of stocks, bonds, and other investment instruments.
Telecommunications encompasses not only mass media, but also the backbones on which the critical infrastructures depend. This includes the national and global wired and wireless telephone grid, Internet, satellite systems, and radio networks.
Emergency services are those provided by police, fire and rescue, paramedic, and hospital emergency room personnel. These services represent the first line response and their coordination and quick delivery are vital in managing the early stages of crisis situations.
Gas and oil, include natural resources, extraction, refinement, and storage and distribution facilities.
Electric and energy comprise the production and distribution of the commodity
Water includes sources, reservoirs, filtration and purification facilities, distribution systems for direct societal consumption, irrigation systems for agricultural use, dams for generation of power, and ultimately sewer recovery and treatment facilities.
Transportation includes the land, sea, and air channels such as roads, navigational
routes, and maritime and aviation ports.
As one can see, the elements of the critical infrastructure are essentially the foundation upon which modern society depends. In today’s networked world, the administration and control of these services is heavily dependent upon information systems that use public and private communications channels that are vulnerable to interception and disruption. As a common denominator, the use of these open channels represents the weakest links in the chain that tie these critical services. Protection of these information systems is of paramount importance in order to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of the associated data and the availability of the systems. Disruption of the nation’s critical infrastructure, through an attack on the networked information systems that control these, could have massive implications to national security.
Threats and Vulnerabilities
While at first glance, one might not appreciate the sensitivity of the information that typically traverses networks linking critical infrastructure components, a closer look will reveal that the interception and alteration of associated data can have a rippling effect with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Consider the generation and distribution of electricity in a large metropolitan area. The systems that monitor demand and in turn control the available supply are vital to sustain uninterrupted service. If unprotected, interception and alteration of this data can overload systems and cause not only interruption of service, but permanent damage to generation and distribution facilities. Air traffic control is another example, where availability of service and integrity of the data are vital elements for the safety of millions of passengers.
Perhaps an even frightening example is in the public health arena.
As the threat of bio-terrorism has become more real, monitoring and compilation of disease outbreaks on a national level is of vital importance in order to maintain a vigilant posture and be able to spot possible epidemics in time for them to be contained. The accuracy and credibility of the data compiled ultimately determines the timeliness and effectiveness of treatment. As a case in point, a national health alert network, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, collects public health data from all over the country, monitors for signs of epidemics and provides emergency training to local, state, and federal health agencies1. The availability of this system and the integrity of its data are a vital concern. Interception and alteration could permit a distributed attack against public health to go unnoticed until the scale of an epidemic became evident. Information systems that transmit and store data on elements of the critical infrastructure, such as the ones discussed above, require degrees of protection commensurate to the associated threat. While in some instances the confidentiality of the data is not important, its integrity is a principal concern. Information systems security principles including access control, business continuity and disaster recovery planning, operational and physical security, cryptography, and network security provide the right tools to mitigate the risks to acceptable levels given the open environments and extent of coverage that the infrastructure subject of protection encompasses.
Practical Security Requirements
The bulk of the information that is shared between systems supporting critical infrastructures is unclassified in nature. However, because of the fact that interception and alteration of this data can lead to severe implication on the reliability and availability of critical services, this category of information is typically labeled Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU). Identification of this information and efforts to secure its paths is now a government priority under the Presidential Decision Directive 63, which calls for the protection of the information systems serving the nation’s critical Infrastructure. While classified (i.e., Confidential, Secret, and Top-Secret) government information has always been given the utmost level of security through the use of high-grade cryptographic products that guarantee a high degree of protection through an established and verifiable design methodology and operational fail-safe performance, affording the same level of protection to SBU data proves to be impractical from a cost and logistical perspective. Because of the sensitivity of classified government algorithms and related technology used by high-grade cryptographic devices, these are classified as Controlled Cryptographic Items (CCI), and their deployment and use is restricted and closely monitored. As a result, complex physical and personnel security processes are required whenever CCI products are used. The scale to which information systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure need to be deployed and intermeshed between various jurisdictions within government and the private sector requires that information security solutions not only be robust and trusted, but also releasable throughout the range of locations and users who must operate these. Finding cost-effective and trusted ways of addressing this requirement has been a challenge that has been successfully addressed through the use of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) and customized COTS products that are certified to stringent government-recognized and monitored security standards.
The Datacryptor product line is a hardware-based, stand-alone encryption platform that provides access control, confidentiality, and integrity of data using strong cryptography. It is designed to meet the needs of government and enterprise customers alike, who seek to protect sensitive data in mission critical environments where compromise cannot be tolerated. Datacryptor customers recognize that communications circuits and networks are vulnerable to both external and internal threats and that without a clear separation between network security and system administration, much of the investment made in information security can be negated in light of open doors left to “trusted” insiders.
As a COTS product, the Datacryptor provides the ideal characteristics necessary to address this complex problem. The product is designed to offer the strongest commercially available algorithms with robust Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) and Common Criteria-certified tamper resistance, and unlike CCI devices, its automatic key management system is free from logistical manpower-intensive operation. This also provides added security in an otherwise low-trust personnel security environment typical of the surroundings described herein. These characteristics allow the product to be deployed at all levels and jurisdictions, without the overhead associated with the physical security, personnel clearances, and logistical procedures required when dealing with CCI devices.
The Datacryptor products are available in a variety of models and speeds that address the security needs of point-to-point links, X.25 and Frame Relay circuits, IP, and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) networks. As a product that can be customized to use specific algorithms, the Datacryptor product line offers a high-security and cost-effective solution ideal for securing the information systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure.
About THALES e-SECURITY
Description: Thales e-Security is an innovative global specialist in security solutions for electronic payments and high-value transactions in the financial services and government markets. In protecting the flow of information through wireless and traditional networks, Thales e-Security has developed a full range of solutions that build on the Company’s core competencies of cryptography and tamper resistant hardware. The Company combines more than 20 years expertise in management, services, integration and technology innovation to deliver the world’s premiere specialized network and payment security solutions.