Threats to Critical Infrastructure: Perceptions vs. Reality

A report on critical infrastructure in the UK reveals a disparity between perceived threats to critical infrastructure security and the reality of cyber risks.


Bridewell Consulting engaged market research firm Censuswide to survey 250 security leaders across critical infrastructure sectors, referred to in the UK as critical national infrastructure. The survey examined the aviation, chemicals, energy, transport and water sectors.


The study sheds light on the widespread use of older systems lacking security support, which allow attackers to access and manipulate operational technology systems. The majority of organizations surveyed said they rely on aging systems; 79% of the organizations reported systems that were over five years old, and 34% over ten years old.


The survey results point to environments that are often reliant on Internet-connected technologies in critical industrial operations, with 84% of the environments reported as accessible from corporate networks and 58% accessible from the Internet. The report emphasizes that defined layers of network segregation are critical in minimizing an attacker’s movement within a network.


The participating organizations demonstrated a willingness to take advantage of cloud advantages such as reductions in operational expenses, greater scalability, and potentially improved physical resilience; 98% of the organizations surveyed have either migrated elements of their operational technology environments to the cloud or are planning to do so. Misconfigured cloud systems are among the largest attack vectors, as a study of third-party cloud services recently demonstrated.


In addition to the risks posed by an aging yet increasingly connected infrastructure and the potential for human error, decision-makers have also identified these threats to be among the most dangerous to their critical infrastructure organization: cyber attacks (39%), malware (34%), and physical security risks (28%).


Only 20% of respondents selected attacks from nation-states as a major risk, and only 18% chose threats from third-party suppliers, which could indicate some complacency around supply chain risks despite recognition by the National Cyber Security Centre as an area of vulnerability.


The researchers urge decision-makers to qualify and quantify all supply chain risks and threats before undertaking adaptive risk management procedures, as the consequences of successful cyberattacks can include financial penalties, downtime, dismissal of employees, reputational damage, and loss of revenue.