Protecting critical infrastructure

  • Last updated: 20 Dec. 2012 15:42

Imagine that a coordinated cyber attack inserts malicious software into the computer networks of private companies operating national critical infrastructure, shutting down transportation, water and other critical systems.

The ensuing havoc sees trains derail, including one carrying industrial chemicals that explode into a toxic cloud. Water treatment plants shut down, contaminating drinking water and causing many to fall ill.

It is a nightmare scenario, but it is also one that could happen. Defining ways to prevent this, and discussing NATO’s role in protecting Allied nations’ critical infrastructure was the theme of the annual Emerging Security Challenges Conference on 10 December 2012, held in conjunction with Carnegie Europe.

“To face such wide-ranging threats and challenges, no single organisation can work in isolation,” saysAmbassador Francesca Tardioli, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO’s Operations Division. “A comprehensive approach, involving a myriad of international and national organisations, public-private partnerships and academia, is required.”

Building partnerships

Well over 150 renowned experts including former French and Polish defence ministers, NATO and national staff representatives, as well as academic and industry experts, gathered in Brussels to discuss NATO’s contribution to security challenges surrounding critical infrastructure.

Through initiatives like this conference, the Alliance hopes to build stronger partnerships with all relevant stakeholders, including the private sector which owns and manages most national critical infrastructure.

“I am confident that NATO can be a viable partner to other government agencies as well as the private sector in safeguarding our critical infrastructure in today’s globalised world,” says Ambassador Gábor Iklódy, Assistant Secretary General of NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division.

Looking at different angles

Speaking at the conference, Rene de Vries, Portmaster of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, added that only close cooperation with all stakeholders could ensure the security of the port and its transport links.

“We need to build a culture of information sharing, based on mutual trust,” says Annemarie Zielstra, Director of the Centre for the Protection of Critical Infrastructure of the Netherlands, who sat on one of the three panels at the conference discussing different aspects of the security challenges to critical infrastructure.

NATO’s role

Although nations are themselves responsible for protecting their critical infrastructure networks, the Alliance is working to refine its work in the area. Through wide-ranging consultations and its network of partners, NATO can be an important stakeholder in dealing with critical infrastructure challenges.

“Our real challenge is, that the issue may seem too difficult for NATO to fix, but it certainly is too important to be ignored,” concludes Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division.