NIST Warns Against Lack of Security in Critical Infrastructure

NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology) released Special Publication 800-53 version 4 recently, and it covers the shortcomings in privacy and security in the national power grid, water control systems, dams, oil and gas utilities and similar computer controlled systems.  There are no coherent or enforceable standards for Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems that are commonplace in the public utility sector, and for that matter, in manufacturing.  So there is nothing in place to prevent an electronic “Pearl Harbor” event from occurring.

The current standards, if they can be called standards, are a loosely coordinated collection Executive Orders, laws, policies, regulations, directives, and guidelines.  There is not a single set of rules, and many of the standards are voluntary.  In many cases, industry lobbyists work against an improvements in the laws or standards that apply to their member utilities.  There is not a single government regulator in charge of critical infrastructure, and in many cases the main regulatory agencies exist at the state level.  Inertia keeps any changes to a minimum.  If there were a cyber attack against the grid or other systems, it will be too late to do anything about it, and recovery may be extremely difficult or impossible.

There is some hope for effective change in this area, and NIST is bringing the issue up and making some recommendations that hopefully will evolve into a set of security standards for critical infrastructure.  This is a “write your congressman” sort of issue, but there does not appear to be a champion for this cause in the Congress.

Somewhere I heard the proverb “we are always preparing to fight the last war.”  The last war was (and continues to be) an asymmetric war between professional armies, sometimes civilian law enforcement agencies and rebels, guerrilla groups, insurgents, and terrorists.  We are already seeing some peculiar non-traditional styles of combat, most recently in the use of large trucks running down civilian pedestrians.  What happens when these non-traditional and non-professional fighters put down their guns and pick up a keyboard?  Are we ready to wage that battle?  I guess we will see, and probably sooner than later.

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About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at

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