While Europe may be fragmented in terms of politics and ideology, one thing all EU member countries share in common is the number of threats facing their critical infrastructure, as the technology behind it becomes increasingly complex and privy to ever-evolving threats such as ransomware, phishing, and AI-powered cyberattacks.
Critical infrastructure is the framework on which a country’s essential services are based – such as emergency services, energy, food, government, transport, defence, nuclear communications. Those services that are deemed essential to everyday life and, if compromised, could result in a loss of life or casualties through the resulting social and economic impact, or that could threaten national security or even hinder the function of the state itself.
These Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are often managed via a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system – the holy grail to would-be cybercriminals who have quickly recognised the riches they can reap by bringing these services to a standstill and holding those responsible for them to ransom. Increasingly, these ICS-SCADA systems are the targets for state-sponsored attacks too.
Back in 2004, the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) was set up to act as a centre of network and information security expertise for the EU, its member states, the private sector and European citizens, and also to provide advice and promote best practices in information security and protecting ICS-SCADA systems.
In a mission statement, Udo Helmbrecht, executive director at ENISA said: “[Europe needs to] continue to make the most of digitalisation and cyberspace opportunities – by investing more in security and in the protection of citizens and the information contained in our infrastructure and networks.” Each European country has its own approach to protecting its critical infrastructure, with the majority setting up separate, government-backed supervisory bodies that monitor threats, allocate budgets, and deal with compliance issues.
Handily, was condensed into another ENISA report, with a common thread among EU member states being an understanding of the need to invest in effective security solutions and creating proper legislation that can keep sensitive state information safe, and prevent control of vital services falling into the wrong hands.
One significant technological challenge many European countries are facing currently is the switch to 5G – a key to harnessing the opportunities thrown up by developments such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Thing, and the cloud, and vital for keeping critical infrastructure systems up to date. Europe is seen to be lagging around a year behind the US, China, Japan, and the Middle East when it comes to 5G adoption. In an attempt to catch up, the European Commission launched a 5G action plan in 2016 to help roll out 5G technologies and build digital infrastructure by 2020. But this development brings a whole raft of security fears, not least over the intentions of those firms hired to implement the technology.
Chinese firms are facing a backlash in Europe when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure, namely because of their aggressive acquisition strategies overseas, but they’re closed ranks when investors from other regions come knocking on their doors. In the UK for example, the rollout of 5G has been problematic and delayed due to trust issues with Chinese giant Huawei, and in Germany, action was taken to fend off unwanted takeovers by Chinese investors. This mistrust of Huawei has been mirrored all over Europe.
So, what should European countries do to ensure they are fully protected?
As a starting point, every country should undertake regular audits of their critical infrastructure and the systems supporting it, ensuring they have implemented the latest updates and are fully protected against the latest threats. Staff should also be fully threat-aware through regular scenario-based and technical training exercises.
But each country should also regularly review the actual security solutions they are using because newer technologies continually coming to market that could both save money and increase efficiency while tightening security even further.
Take, for example, Illumio’s Adaptive Security Platform, which offers a complete segmentation solution that can address multiple security pain points.
In the past, segmentation was a complex operation, leaving companies with little to no visibility into traffic flows, and requiring apps and the network to be completely rearchitected – a costly and time-consuming exercise. Also, static policies would need to be updated manually and organisations faced their expensive firewalls failing in the cloud environment. On top of that, all these different configuration requirements would cause regular outages. Hardly ideal when national security is at stake.
But security segmentation eliminates all these issues, providing the visibility and enforcement needed to adhere to the National Cyber Security Centre guidelines, while offering vulnerability mapping and an ability to ringfence core applications.
It gives control back to those who need it and keeps the attackers firmly at bay.