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Critical infrastructure protection is all about operational resilience and continuity

Get free weekly news by e-mailBy Dr. Jim Kennedy, MRP, MBCI, CBRM

It has always been the policy of the United States to ensure the continuity and security of the critical infrastructures that are essential to the minimum operations of our economy and government. This critical infrastructure includes essential government services, public health, law enforcement, emergency services, information and communications, banking and finance, energy, transportation, and water supply.

So even before the events of 9/11, the Executive Branch of our government, the President through Presidential Decision Directive 63 (PDD 63) issued May 22, 1998, ordered the strengthening of the nation's defenses against emerging unconventional threats to the United States, including those involving terrorist acts, weapons of mass destruction, assaults on critical infrastructures, and cyber-based attacks.

But how many of us really understand what an immense undertaking that was? What is the critical infrastructure in the United States?

* More than 3,000 government facilities
* 7,569 Hospitals
* Telecommunications: 2 billion miles of cable; 1000s of telephone switching central offices
* Energy: 2800 Electric power plants; 300,000 oil and natural gas producing sites; 104 nuclear power plants
* Transportation
- 5000 public airports
- 500,000 highway bridges
- 2 million miles of pipelines
- 300 coastal ports
- 500 major urban public transit operators
* 4,893 banks or savings institutions have more than $100 billion in assets
* 66,000 chemical and hazardous material producing plants
* 75,000 dams
* 51,450 fire stations responding to 22,616,500 calls for assistance each year.

US business and every individual rely in some manner on the above every day. We depend on their operational resiliency and continuity of operations.

Initially, critical infrastructure assurance was essentially a state and local concern. With the massive use of information technologies and their significant interdependencies it has become a national concern, with major implications for the defense of our homeland and the economic security of the United States.

However, given all of the focus on critical infrastructure still one in three critical infrastructure operations goes without a business continuity or continuity of operations plan and three out of five of those operations with plans have never tested their plans as ‘fit for purpose.’

Up until this year the electrical energy sector had no single body setting security and availability standards and practices for their operation. In 2006 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) selected the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) as the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) and standard setting body in the US for electric utilities. Contingency and continuity of operations plans in this segment of the critical infrastructure is minimal at best as is typical across the entire energy sector (e.g. transmission, generation, oil and gas distribution and etc.).

In the financial sector many institutions, despite regular audits and increased governmental regulations, still do not have adequate continuity plans in place and information security is marginal.

Although the deadline for HIPAA compliance has officially passed, a significant percentage of covered health care organizations still have not achieved basic HIPAA compliance, according to a recent industry survey. They lack emergency operations plans and even in some cases proper disaster recovery plans for patient care systems, which contain critical patient healthcare information.

So even though there are laws and regulations and a very clear focus on the protection and resilience of critical infrastructure operations it has not seemed to translate into practice for the actual critical infrastructure operations across the US.

Critical infrastructure protection is all about operational resilience.
In the GAO’s ‘Critical Infrastructure Protection – Significant Challenges in Safeguarding Government and Privately Controlled Systems from Computer-Based Attacks’ the report refers to service continuity controls as: “controls that ensure that when unexpected events occur, critical operations will continue without undue interruption and that crucial, sensitive data are protected.” It (the report) goes on to say that: “Service continuity controls should address the entire range of potential disruptions including relatively minor interruptions, such as temporary power failures or accidental loss or erasure of files, as well as major disasters, such as fires or natural disasters, that would require reestablishing operations at a remote location.”

So how is this to be accomplished? The most effective way is for the development of a thorough and comprehensive business continuity or business resiliency management program. That program can be based on the NIPP Risk Management Framework, which consists of:

* Setting Security Goals
* Identify Assets, Systems, Networks, and Functions
* Assess Risks
* Prioritize Mitigation Efforts
* Implement Mitigations Strategies and Protective Programs
* Measure Effectiveness
* Start back at the beginning.

I have attempted to outline below a process to aid critical infrastructure operations, utilizing the above CIPP Risk Management Framework coupled with an effective governance model, in addressing business continuity and resiliency needs.

First a certified business continuity planner needs to be selected and must obtain senior management agreement and sponsorship for the program to be developed. With this sponsorship budgets and manpower can be allocated for the project.

Second, the planner must solicit the aid from multiple areas of the operation or business. This can be accomplished by establishing a Business Continuity or Business Resiliency Steering Committee. This committee will be comprised of middle management from across the operation (e.g. technical, operational, financial, HR and etc.). The function of this committee is to establish the direction and approve the program, identify tools to be used, establish metrics, and report to senior management on progress.

Next, if the amount of work to be done is substantial or if the business continuity or resiliency program is starting from scratch, is the development of a Business Continuity or Resiliency Program Office. This may be comprised of one or more individuals who are responsible (using project management disciplines) for ensuring that the planning and mitigation tasks are implemented consistently throughout the organization. They must also track and report on progress.

With the governance in place, the CIPP framework can be implemented and work can begin to implement it within the organization. The steering committee will work with senior management to establish the direction and communicating the goals within the organization.

Identifying the critical assets is the next step. In everyday business continuity planning this equates to performing a business impact analysis. Here business continuity planners will work to develop a clear picture of what components (people, process, and/or technology) of the operation are critical to it carrying out its mission and to identify how long it can do without or work-around those components if they are to become unavailable.

Next step in the CIPP Risk Management Framework is the assessment of risk. This equates to the business continuity planner’s risk assessment. The risk assessment is the process of identifying the risks to an organization, assessing the critical functions necessary for an organization to continue business operations, defining the controls in place to reduce organization exposure and evaluating the cost for such controls. Risk analysis often involves an evaluation of the probabilities of a particular event.

Once the risk assessment is complete it will be necessary to move to the next step in the CIPP Framework, that of prioritizing the risks and developing mitigation strategies based on the operations risk appetite. Here is where the organization determines how to address the risk. Mitigate it, pass it on to another entity (insurance) or simply ignore it.

Whatever makes the best business sense is then translated into a protective plan which is then implemented under the direction of the program office. At this point in time, when the mitigation strategies are identified and are being implemented, is where the business continuity or resiliency plan can be developed. Again business continuity subject matter experts are best utilized to accomplish this task as they have developed plans for similar business operations. Once the mitigation efforts are in place and the plans completed awareness training and exercising of the plan is appropriate.

Lastly, before starting the whole effort over again, is measuring effectiveness. Is the plan and are the mitigation strategies “fit for purpose?” Does it adequately protect the operation from adverse events? If not, then the plan and mitigation efforts will have to be reviewed and modified as appropriate.

What has been accomplished is the beginning of a continuing effort to maintain the operation of the critical infrastructure. It has no end. It needs to be reviewed for every change to the operation.

I have been fortunate to help many critical infrastructure organizations build business continuity and resiliency into their operations. It is not easy but, as Presidents past and present indicate, it is of the utmost importance to make sure that the United State’s critical infrastructure is adequately protected as its citizens rely upon it every day for their safety, protection, and wellbeing. It is difficult but as has been said: the beginning of any important journey starts with a single step.

Dr. Jim Kennedy is the Business Continuity Services Practice Lead and a Consulting Member of Technical Staff for Lucent Technologies. Dr. Kennedy has over 25 years experience in the business continuity and disaster recovery fields and holds numerous Master level certifications in network engineering, information security and business continuity.
He has developed more than 30 recovery plans, planned or participated in more than 100 business continuity and disaster recovery tests, helped to coordinate three actual recovery operations, authored many technical articles on business continuity and disaster recovery and is a co-author for two books, the ‘Blackbook of Corporate Security’ and ‘Disaster Recovery Planning: An Introduction’ and author of the e-Book entitled: ‘Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery – Conquering the Catastrophic.’ jtkennedy@lucent.com

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Date: 17th November 2006• Region: US •Type: Article •Topic: BC general
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