Building Resiliency into Critical Infrastructure

On February 7, 2014, in MegaTrends, by sharilee

Cybersecurity and critical infrastructure have been at the top of the news for years and for good reason. Global dependence on the Internet expands by leaps and bounds every day. Worldwide Internet use has mushroomed to over 7 billion people (2013) – from kids playing video games to nations that depend on transportation networks, financial markets, and energy grids.  As a result, everyone is scrambling to keep pace with technology development and its abusers.


Take the growing threat of the Stuxnet worm. Per IEEE Spectrum.

In June 2010, Stuxnet, a 500kB computer worm, infected the software of at least 14 industrial sites in Iran, including a uranium-enrichment plant. A worm spreads on its own, often over a computer network. This worm gave its authors the ability to spy on the industrial systems and even cause the fast-spinning centrifuges to tear themselves apart, unbeknownst to the human operators at the plant.

In October 2012, the U.S. defense secretary warned that the United States was vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could derail trains, poison water supplies, and cripple power grids. The next month, Chevron confirmed the speculation by becoming the first U.S. corporation to admit that Stuxnet had spread across its machines.

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Chevron operates approximately 19,550 retail sites in 84 countries. That’s just one of the many private sector companies and government agencies that form the complex, interdependent network of components known as “critical infrastructure.” The power infrastructure, for instance, includes the electrical power system, the delivery of fuels to power generating stations, the production of those fuels, and the transportation system that brings fuel to local communities.

According to Security Management magazine, “In 2006, the U.S. Critical Infrastructure Task Force, which was appointed by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, initiated a public policy debate, arguing that the government’s critical infrastructure policies were focused too much on protecting assets from terrorist attacks and not focused enough on improving the resilience of assets against a variety of threats. Since then, homeland defense policy has evolved—to an extent—to support efforts of improving critical infrastructure.”

There is a growing, global emphasis on infrastructure “resilience.” In February 2013, President Obama signed Presidential Policy Directive PPD-21, Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience. In August 2013, the European Commission issued, “A New Approach to the European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection.”  Both aim to build better shared tools and approaches to critical infrastructure protection and resilience.

Rogers Innovation Center

State-of-the-art research on infrastructure resilience is being undertaken at Northeastern University’s George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security. The institute includes 70,000- square-feet of lab space for researchers from the public and private sectors to collaborate with academia to improve homeland security.

The Kostas Research Institute is the new home of the Rogers Innovation Center. The Innovation Center will consist of 4,000 square feet of lab space, housing Ph.D. researchers and business, development, and strategy experts. Some Northeastern faculty will relocate from the main Boston campus to collocate research. Two teams of researchers from Rogers will collocate at the innovation center, as well.

Bob Daigle, Senior Vice President and CTO for Rogers Corporation, said, “Northeastern University was selected as the site of the innovation center because of its commitment to collaborating with industry. The goal of the innovation center is to create and acquire new technology through the development of unique materials-based solutions. Working with cutting-edge technology requires a strong fundamental understanding of materials, and collaborating with Northeastern will provide that knowledge. We believe this model for university and industry collaboration should result in more research that’s focused in areas that can have real impact in the world and reduce the time it takes for new emerging technology to be commercialized.”

The goal is to ensure the continuity of the critical functions and services that these systems provide, versus a focus on the protection of assets. Researchers work to understand the hazard, test things until they break, and then reverse engineer how to design them to take a hit and not fail.


One Response to Building Resiliency into Critical Infrastructure

  1. […] researchers, engineers, students, and employees gathered for the ribbon cutting at the new Rogers Innovation Center in Burlington, Massachusetts on March 25, 2014. The Innovation Center is a new industry-academic […]

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