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4/19/2011
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Cyber Threats To Critical Infrastructure Spike

While the number and severity of attacks increases, cooperative partnerships between the public and private sector in the U.S. lag behind the rest of the world.

Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
As cyber threats and vulnerabilities for critical infrastructure continue to rise, more than 40% of U.S.-based critical infrastructure companies still have no interaction with the federal government on cyber-defense matters, according to a survey of more than 200 critical infrastructure executives.

In 2010, according to the report, which was conducted on behalf of McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 80% of critical infrastructure companies faced a large-scale denial of service attack, and almost 40% of respondents saw them monthly. In 2009, on the other hand, almost half of all companies experienced no denial of service attacks whatsoever.

However, the global survey found that, even as these attacks rise worldwide, the U.S. government lags significantly in working closely with industry on cybersecurity issues as compared to some other countries. As compared to 40% in the United States, only about 5% of Chinese executives, for example, said that they had not worked with their government on network security.

The deficits extend from the frequency of contact to the depth of that contact, as well. In Japan, every company surveyed had been subject to a government audit of their security, whereas the number of companies in the United States subject to government audits hovered at close to 15%.

Although the government has given away billions of dollars for smart grid investment in the past few years, much of it coming from the 2009 stimulus package, none of that money was conditioned on underlying cybersecurity requirements. "They didn't include the requirement for cybersecurity plans until they gave the grants out," Michael Peters, energy infrastructure and cybersecurity advisor to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at a press conference to announce the report.

"If there is a race among governments to harden their civilian infrastructure against cyberattack, Europe and the United States are falling behind Asia," the report's authors wrote.

While the U.S. government has created numerous efforts and groups over the past several years to help bolster critical infrastructure cybersecurity, there's a recognized need to do more. Just last week, for example, industry executives testified before the House committee on homeland security that information sharing is still not easy enough.

"Everybody wants to do the right thing, but they also need a reason to do that, and don't always get that from the regulatory environment or the incentives built into our laws and regulations," Stewart Baker, lead author of the report and distinguishing visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an interview.

For its part, Congress is moving, but none of the dozens of cybersecurity-related bills introduced in Congress since the beginning of the previous session have made it to the president's desk, and a long-awaited comprehensive cyber bill that would address public-private critical infrastructure partnerships has yet to make it to the Senate floor.

There is some wariness that lawmakers could push regulation too far. "I'm very concerned about creating another compliance regime, because information flows between the regulated and the regulator are not always at the level everyone would like them to be," Kevin Gronberg, senior counsel to the House committee on homeland security, said at the press conference.

However, he added, it's clear that the federal government's cyber-related authorities don't yet match up with expectations of its capabilities. "We still have a long way to go," he said.

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