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Crisis Response Journal Crisis Response Journal

Is Europe's Critical Infrastructure prepared for an attack?

Posted on 12th February 2015 at 16:06pm

Ahead of the Critical Infrastructure Protection and Resilience event to be held in the Netherlands this March, Neil Walker examines just how prepared Europe is for an attack on its critical infrastructure, and the possible effects should such an event take place. 

Note: CRJ readers benefit from a 15% discount on delegate places, quote CJR15

Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we have seen the changing nature of threat and terrorism in Europe. Are we surprised by these attacks? Well the security services are believed to have been aware of the potential of these groups of extremists, but the direction their plots have been focussed has caught many unprepared.

How long could it be before these types of attacks become focussed on essential parts of our infrastructure that would cause longer-term paralysis of our economies?

Organisations, such as IS, are also becoming more skilled at using the dark web and social media, not just to spread their message, but also attack communities, businesses and government.

New research from Unisys Corporation finds alarming gaps in the security of the world’s critical infrastructure. Nearly 70 per cent of companies surveyed responsible for power, water and other critical functions have reported at least one security breach that led to the loss of confidential information or disruption of operations in the past 12 months, according to a survey released recently in partnership with the Ponemon Institute.

In a survey of 599 security executives at utility, oil and gas, energy and manufacturing companies, 64 per cent of respondents anticipated one or more serious attacks in the coming year. Despite this risk, only 28 per cent ranked security as one of the top five strategic priorities for their organisation, while a majority named their top business priority as minimising downtime.

The survey also highlighted the concerns many of these executives feel regarding the security of industrial control systems (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, which monitor and control the processes and operations for power generation and other critical infrastructure functions. When asked about the likelihood of an attack on their organisation’s ICS or SCADA systems, 78 per cent of the senior security officials responded that a successful attack is at least ‘somewhat likely’ within the next 24 months. Just 21 per cent of respondents thought that the risk level to ICS and SCADA has decreased substantially because of regulations and industry-based security standards, which means that tighter controls and better adoption of standards are needed.

This research report comes at the same time that an international organised cybercrime network, composed mostly of Romanian citizens, was successfully taken down in Romania and France, with the support of the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol.

The cybercrime network is suspected of sophisticated electronic payment crimes, including intrusions into international non-cash payment systems (through malware attacks), illegal worldwide financial transactions and money transfers, card data compromising (via skimming attacks), money laundering and drug trafficking. Members of this criminal network were using malware – RAT (Remote Access Tool) with key logger functionality – to take over and gain access to computers used by money transfer services all over Europe (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Norway and UK).

Critical Infrastructure Protection and Resilience Europe, incorporating Critical Information Infrastructure Protection (cybersecurity), will take place in The Hague, the Netherlands, on March 4 – 5, 2015 and brings together leading stakeholders from industry, operators, agencies and governments to debate and collaborate on securing Europe’s critical infrastructure.

Convergence is one of the key issues at this year’s conference, so the event will start with a combined plenary session: ‘Bridging the communications gap and enhancing the integration, co-operation and security between CIP and CIIP operations,’ before splitting into separate CIP and CIIP tracks.

This session examines how as more and more of vital CNI data is being held in cyberspace, opening it up to the threat of an attack that could delivery overwhelmingly disastrous consequences to CNI operations and the wider economy. The linking of SCADA networks with IT networks allow better and faster communications, yet increases the threats and risks on SCADA communications. How can communication and co-operation, good practice and guidelines improve cyber security detection and response systems for CIP and CIIP?

Once the conference splits into tracks, key discussions will revolve around transport, power and telecommunications, which are crucial to the economic lifeblood of any modern industrial economy. The fragility of Europe’s exposed transport network across a borderless continent provides unique challenges, including freight and passenger travel through ports, harbours and airports. Communications infrastructure becomes key during any threat scenario in which many fail when severely damaged, limiting co-ordinated efforts and potentially causing damage to the economy far in excess of any physical damage incurred. The problem for the authorities, operators and agencies is to ensure the right balance of security, safety and resilience in facilities that are widely dispersed and subject to diverse ranges of threats.

Another modern phenomenon is the increasing use of smartphones as the preferred option to move or share information/data and communicate between businesses and CNI sites. One of the sessions will discuss the security of smartphones for critical information and data exchange and what can be done to enhance security. With more sophisticated apps and more sophisticated cyber criminals, what’s all the hype around electronic security?

Johan Willemen President of the FIEC will be among those who discuss how can we design and build better security and resilience into critical infrastructure. How can standards be raised and what techniques can be employed to ensure structural analysis and monitoring of a building before, during or after an extreme event?

The final session will again combine CIP and CIIP delegates to discuss where and how agencies and CNI operators better work together for common purpose, resource sharing and intelligence gathering to deliver better value for the tax payer or shareholder and greater success in delivering security and resilience to our CNI, and improving disaster risk reduction.

The full conference programme, CIP and CIIP tracks and sessions can be found at, along with the speaker line up and event details, such as the IET Round Table being held on March 3.

Open to all professionals working in the field of critical protection and resilience of national network systems and infrastructure, the IET Round Table will explore the interoperability of systems for greater resilience across transport, the built environment and communications. Key conclusions from the round table will form part of the plenary session on Day 1 of the conference.

You can join the discussion at Critical Infrastructure Protection & Resilience Europe on March 4 – 5, 2015, in The Hague, Netherlands. Further details can be found here

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