There is a drop in awareness and engagement on a global basis regarding critical infrastructure protection, a new report said.

Companies surveyed this year in the Symantec Corp. 2011 Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Survey show a CIP Participation Index of 82 percent in government protection programs, down 18 points from last year.

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Critical infrastructure providers come from industries of such importance if their networks suffered from a successful attack and ended up disabled, it would result in an actual threat to national security.

“The findings of this survey are somewhat alarming, given recent attacks like Nitro and Duqu that have targeted critical infrastructure providers,” said Dean Turner, director, Global Intelligence Network for Symantec. “Having said that, limitations on manpower and resources as mentioned by respondents help explain why critical infrastructure providers have had to prioritize and focus their efforts on more day-to-day cyber threats. However, we think that targeted attacks against critical infrastructure providers in the form of Stuxnet, Nitro and Duqu will continue. Businesses and governments around the world should be very aggressive in their efforts to promote and coordinate protection of critical industry cyber networks. These latest attacks are likely just the beginning of more targeted attacks directed at critical infrastructure.”

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Among the findings:
• Lower awareness and engagement in government CIP programs. This year, companies are generally less aware of their government’s CIP programs. 36 percent of respondents were somewhat or completely aware of the government critical infrastructure plans compared to 55 percent last year. In 2011, 37 percent of companies remain completely or significantly engaged, versus 56 percent in 2010.
• Slightly more ambivalence about government CIP programs. Companies are more ambivalent in 2011 than they were in 2010 about government CIP programs. When asked to voice their opinion about government CIP programs, 42 percent had no opinion or were neutral. Also, companies are now slightly less willing to cooperate with CIP programs than they were one year ago (57 versus 66 percent).
• Global Organizations feel less prepared. It is not surprising that as an organization’s assessment of the threat drops, their readiness drops as well. Overall readiness on a global scale fell an average of eight points (from 60 to 63 percent in 2011 compared with 68 to 70 percent in 2010).

The following are recommendations to ensure resiliency against critical infrastructure cyber attacks:
• Develop and enforce IT policies and automate compliance processes. By prioritizing risks and defining policies that span across all locations, organizations can enforce policies through built-in automation and workflow and not only identify threats but remediate incidents as they occur or anticipate them before they happen.
• Protect information proactively by taking an information-centric approach to protect information and interactions. Taking a content-aware approach to protecting information is vital in knowing who owns the information, where sensitive information resides, who has access, and how it is coming in or leaving your organization.
• Manage systems by implementing secure operating environments, distributing and enforcing patch levels, automating processes to streamline efficiency, and monitoring and reporting on system status.
• Protect the infrastructure by securing endpoints, messaging and Web environments. In addition, defending critical internal servers and implementing the ability to back up and recover data should be priorities. Organizations also need the visibility and security intelligence to respond to threats rapidly.
• Ensure 24×7 availability. Organizations should implement testing methods that are non-disruptive and they can reduce complexity by automating failover. Virtual environments should be treated the same as a physical environment, showing the need for organizations to adopt more cross-platform and cross-environment tools, or standardize on fewer platforms.
• Develop an information management strategy that includes an information retention plan and policies. Organizations need to stop using backup for archiving and legal holds, implement deduplication everywhere to free resources, use a full-featured archive system and deploy data loss prevention technologies.

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