Study: Basic Needs Critical Infrastructure Sectors Account for 8 Percent of All Incidents in 2014

Food, water, sanitation, education, health care and transportation are basic survival and societal needs. For the past several years, government entities all over the world have focused increasingly on threats to critical infrastructure, both physical and cyber. According to IBM Managed Security Services data, these “basic needs” infrastructure sectors accounted for 8 percent of all incidents in 2014.

All the basic needs sectors share characteristics that make defense against cyberattacks difficult. They have an extremely low threshold for unavailability, meaning even a small outage could have a significant and widespread impact on their ability to operate.

What Is Critical Infrastructure?

Well, it depends on where you are in the world. The definition of “critical infrastructure” changes from country to country, which is part of the challenge when addressing and prioritizing cyberthreats targeting this area. In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security defines critical infrastructure as “the assets, systems and networks, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

Critical infrastructure often encompasses industrial control systems, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. Attacks against SCADA and other industrial control systems are a serious concern. They have the potential to create wide-scale compromise in vital systems such as transportation, oil and gas supply, electrical grids, water distribution and wastewater collection.

So where would a severe compromise probably have the greatest impact at the individual level? To answer this, IBM defined our most basic physical needs for survival — food, water, shelter and clothing — and then added next-level needs such as sanitation, education and health care. Additionally, all these sectors have a critical dependency on transportation systems. Therefore, this sector was also included in the analysis.

Read the RESEARCH AND INTELLIGENCE REPORT on Criticial Infrastructure (Basic Needs)

Unauthorized Access Incidents Nearly Doubled

In 2014, IBM found that incidents affecting basic needs critical infrastructure sectors — food and agriculture, water and wastewater systems, education, health care and transportation systems — accounted for 8 percent of all incidents. This was down from 11 percent in 2013.

Total Security Incidents

Year after year, incidents of almost all types have decreased in the basic needs critical infrastructure group. The notable exception is unauthorized access incidents, which almost doubled between 2013 and 2014, rising from 1,500 to nearly 2,900. This is alarming yet expected. That change was actually reflected in every sector across the board, not just in this group. Thanks, Shellshock and Heartbleed.

Susceptibility to Attack: The Cyber Perspective

Not every industry has the same cybersecurity issues, but all are susceptible to attack and should therefore continuously assess their cybersecurity postures to prevent business interruption or compromised information. A high-level overview of each sector within the basic needs critical infrastructure group, its susceptibility to cyberattacks and recommendations can be found here.

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Michelle Alvarez

Threat Researcher and Editor, IBM Managed Security Services

Michelle Alvarez is a Threat Researcher and Editor for IBM's Managed Security Services; she brings more than 10 years of industry experience to her role. In this role she focuses communications efforts around threat research and mitigation. Michelle joined IBM through the Internet Security Services (ISS) acquisition, where she served as an Analyst on the X-Force Vulnerability Database Team.