The State of Cybersecurity at Critical Infrastructure Organizations

    The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) recently surveyed 303 IT and information security professionals with awareness of or responsibility for cyber supply chain policies and processes and with overall knowledge of the state of cybersecurity at their organizations. Survey respondents were located in the United States and work for large midmarket (i.e., 500 to 999 employees) and enterprise (i.e., 1,000 or more employees) organizations that operate in critical infrastructure industries as designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This research project was intended to assess the state of cyber supply chain security and the overall cybersecurity status of organizations in critical infrastructure industries since these entities face constant cyber-attacks from a variety of adversaries including cyber-criminals, hacktivists, and nation states, so they have a bird’s eye view of the threat landscape on a daily basis. When asked to assess this threat landscape in comparison to two years ago, nearly one-third (31%) of organizations claim that the threat landscape is much worse than it was two years ago while 36% believe that the threat landscape is somewhat worse than it was two years ago (see Figure 1). While not surprising, this is discouraging, as an attack on U.S. critical infrastructure could be the “cyber Pearl Harbor” predicted by numerous politicians and pundits.

    Figure 1. Critical Infrastructure Organizations Believe that the Cyber-threat Landscape Is Getting Worse

    Security professionals’ opinions may be related to the fact that most of their organizations experienced one or several security incidents in the past 24 months. In fact, according to Figure 2, many report a wide variety of incidents including system compromises resulting from generic attacks on user systems (31%), data breaches due to lost or stolen equipment (26%), insider attacks (25%), breaches of physical security (21%), and targeted attacks (19%). The data also points to vulnerabilities in the cyber supply chain. In some cases, security incidents were related to business relationships in which several organizations open IT applications and services to one another. While these arrangements offer cost and operational benefits, they also expose each organization to threat vectors emanating from partner networks. It is also noteworthy that 16% of organizations experienced security incidents related to the purchase of counterfeit IT equipment. Clearly, this risk is still pervasive.

    Figure 2. Critical Infrastructure Organizations Have Experienced a Variety of Security Incidents

    Respondents were then asked to describe the consequences of these security incidents. Not surprisingly, nearly half (47%) of organizations report that security incidents require time and personnel for remediation, but many security incidents also impact the business mission—36% said that security incidents disrupted business processes and/or critical operations, 36% pointed to disruption of a business application, 33% described lost productivity, and 32% said that security incidents led to a breach of sensitive data (see Figure 3). In critical infrastructure industries like financial services, business process disruption could translate to an ATM network going offline, while the breach of a health care organization could expose the sensitive health care records of thousands of patients.

    Figure 3. Consequences of Security Incidents at Critical Infrastructure Organizations