As I gingerly stepped over and around the irritated passengers sitting on the floor of Terminal 2 at Chicago O'Hare airport, I quietly realized that even geographically isolated service disruptions can cause significant and far-reaching problems. Having been delayed at my departing airport, I was now 26 hours into what became a 36-hour journey home. The Delta Airlines ground stop ordered on August 8, 2016, caused misery for travelers across the United States and abroad — allegedly due to a power outage in Atlanta, Georgia. This isolated system failure illustrates the vital importance and interdependency of the critical infrastructure services we rely on daily.
Our Critical Infrastructure is at Risk
Our nation's critical infrastructure includes most of the services we use every day without thought: electricity, water, sanitation, and travel — just a few of the many services that keep us moving. These services underpin the logistics, health, and safety of American life. However, this infrastructure is at risk.
Considering a reality in which any one of our critical infrastructure components is damaged or unavailable is difficult to imagine. The threat is real — every day, attackers attempt to disable our power, water, and transportation assets. Moreover, these attacks continue to evolve in sophistication and cadence. The need for action is immediate. Effectively communicating the risk, threats, and implications is an ongoing challenge.
Without a clear understanding of the problem, a solution isn't achievable. November is Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month [https://www.dhs.gov/cisr-month], sponsored by the DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection in partnership with InfraGard of the National Capital Region. Together, they promote understanding and action to better secure our critical infrastructure. This month presents a valuable opportunity for you to become involved in this key effort.
Understanding the Risk
Consider your average workday: how would your week look if you didn't have electricity? Or perhaps a water shortage limited sanitation and drinking water — would this scenario impact your ability to be productive and healthy? Many of our critical utilities and services become very fragile when left exposed to the threats that are present daily. Thankfully, the people who protect our nation's vital infrastructure assets continue to combat these threats, but we cannot expect continued success without additional resources and a combined awareness of the risks we collectively face.
Partnership and Collaboration
The key to fostering and sustaining the successful security of our critical infrastructure lies in building relationships and trust between public and private stakeholders. Since many of the critical infrastructure components are managed by private entities, the effort to share intelligence and resources must be increased, as protecting these assets is an existential concern for our nation's security. No single group can be successful alone; partnerships built on collaboration and trust will promote increased resiliency of our critical infrastructure.
Ownership and a Bottom-Up Effort
While the leadership of this effort is decentralized, the challenge is a largely a bottom-up undertaking. Without the support and engagement of the people directly involved in the operational cadence of our critical infrastructure, efforts to secure these assets will remain largely just talk and planning. The strategy for ensuring the continued availability and security of these systems begins with individual awareness, collaboration, and ownership. In taking a personal stake in these efforts, we can unify the talent and skill of the Americans who stand together in protecting our critical infrastructure. The change begins from the bottom up — it starts with each one of us.
Become Part of the Solution
The best first step in becoming a part of this work is to join your local InfraGard chapter. By joining, you can learn and collaborate with industry professionals and leadership, forging new relationships that will increase the strength of the public-private partnership. If you can't find a local chapter, send an e-mail to [email protected] for assistance.
Our nation's future is only as secure as its citizens are engaged. Get involved now. Your contributions will undergird the continued safety, health, and prosperity of the next generation of Americans. Together, we can work today to secure our critical infrastructure, ensuring a platform on which our children can confidently face the challenges of tomorrow.
Ryan Halstead has spent over a decade working in cybersecurity, both in higher education and in the corporate world. He writes about security culture, leadership, and career. Find him at rjhalstead.com or @rjhalstead.
© 2016 Ryan Halstead. This EDUCAUSE Review blog is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.