Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity in Hybrid Environments

2021 has raised serious doubts about the cyber readiness of today’s critical infrastructure. Most prominently, the highly publicized ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which required a $5 million ransom payment and caused supply shortages and gas lines across the northeast, demonstrated cybersecurity’s centrality to our day-to-day operations. The incident is emblematic of widespread cybersecurity vulnerabilities affecting critical infrastructure across the United States.  

In addition to the attack on Colonial Pipeline, cybercriminals have targeted numerous government agencies, a city’s water supply, and a top meat producer with cyberattacks that disrupted operations, compromised data privacy and put peoples’ lives at risk. 

DevOps Experience

Unfortunately, the widespread transition to remote work has only exacerbated these challenges. This is particularly acute when scaling IT cybersecurity architecture to enable operational technology (OT) engagement from anywhere. This October is the 18th annual Cybersecurity Awareness Month, which prompts companies to reevaluate their defensive posture, ensuring that they are prepared to #BeCyberSmart. For businesses embracing remote or hybrid work models while enabling OT operations, here are three cybersecurity risks they need to address. 

Network Access

After years of investing heavily in on-site cybersecurity solutions, remote work forced companies to expand their security perimeter while tightly regulating on-site network access. To protect network access, cybersecurity teams need better access visibility and stronger controls than IT-grade cybersecurity products can provide. 

Specifically, companies implementing remote operations capacity to enable OT connectivity need a zero-trust security framework that mitigates network access concerns. This includes: 

  • enabling multifactor authentication 
  • implementing protocol isolation 
  • initiating mediated secure file transfer 
  • requiring user-to-asset connection monitoring 
  • maintaining full user access logging and recording.

These technologies reduce the risk of a successful cyberattack, guarding on-site assets while empowering remote workers from anywhere in the world. 

Remote Workers 

People pose a significant threat to cybersecurity. One industry report found that 85% of data breaches are attributed, in part, to a “human element,” underscoring the critical nature of equipping personnel to defend against cybersecurity risks. This is especially true for remote workers.

As a Wall Street Journal analysis found, “Stay-at-home workers have become targets for hackers, and they are exposed in a way that company networks aren’t. The use of personal devices and internet connections, coupled with the anxiety of balancing work with child care and other tasks at home, has introduced a different set of weak points.”

In response, companies need to prepare employees to meet the moment by providing cyberthreat awareness and prevention training that helps employees identify and defend against the most prolific threats like phishing scams, which increased significantly since COVID-19 lockdowns instigated the shift to remote work. 

This year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month has dedicated an entire week to “Fight the Phish;” hopefully that will prompt companies to rethink their approach to personnel readiness. 

Personnel Shortages

As companies identify cybersecurity shortfalls and strive to implement effective solutions, they face an unprecedented talent shortage that threatens to undermine the efforts at a critical time. 

With more than 450,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the United States alone, attracting and retaining top talent can be exceedingly challenging. At the same time, more people quit their jobs in April 2021 than in any single month for nearly a century, creating a professional environment ripe for turnover and disruption. 

Therefore, companies will need to continually prioritize their cybersecurity teams by offering competitive pay packages and providing a compelling workplace environment conducive to retention. Of course, with many cybersecurity teams already struggling with burnout, companies should lean into software solutions that support their efforts and improve their effectiveness. 

Ultimately, employee retention challenges can be an undervalued cybersecurity element that can ensure operational continuity or instigate disruption. 

This year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month feels more critical than ever before. As threat actors turn their attention to critical infrastructure, companies certainly feel immense pressure to avoid a cybersecurity incident’s financial, reputational and operational consequences. This month is an opportunity to reassess our cybersecurity readiness, preparing our companies to thrive in today’s often dangerous digital landscape. 

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