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Critical Infrastructure IT Execs Believe Cyber-Attacks Could Soon Cause Death

Public-private threat intelligence sharing partnerships are increasingly common, and it turns out that most IT executives within critical infrastructure organizations see a need for them—especially as threats continue to snowball, to the point of potentially leading to casualties.

A full 86% in a recent survey from the Aspen Institute and Intel Security said that such partnerships are key to keeping pace with escalating cybersecurity threats.

Interestingly, most see improvements in cybersecurity over the last three years, and maintain a high degree of confidence in existing security. When asked to evaluate their security posture in retrospect, 50% reported that they would have considered their organizations “very or extremely” vulnerable three years ago; by comparison, only 27% believe that their organizations are currently “very or extremely” vulnerable.

Correspondingly, more than four in five are satisfied or extremely satisfied with the performance of their own security tools such as endpoint protection (84%), network firewalls (84%) and secure web gateways (85%).

But here’s the bad news: these perceptions seem out of line with reality. Around nine in 10 (89%) respondents said that they have already experienced at least one attack on a system within their organization, which they deemed secure, over the past three years, with a median of close to 20 attacks per year. Fifty-nine percent of respondents stated that at least one of these attacks resulted in physical damage.

Also, 72% said that the threat level of attacks was escalating and threatening to overwhelm any security improvements. They also say that user error continues to be a big issue, and respondents see this as the greatest cause of successful attacks on critical infrastructure. Organizations may strengthen their security postures, but individual employees can still fall victim to phishing emails, social engineering and drive-by browser downloads that successfully infect their organizations’ networks.

And what of loss of life? Almost half of all respondents (48%) believe it is likely that a cyber-attack with the potential for fatalities could happen within the next three years (even though 64% believe such an attack has not happened yet because good IT security is already in place).

Given how high the stakes are when it comes to critical infrastructure, a majority (76%) of survey respondents also indicated they believe a national defense force should respond when a cyber-attack damages a critical infrastructure company within national borders.

“This data raises new and vital questions about how public and private interests can best join forces to mitigate and defend against cyber-attacks,” said Clark Kent Ervin, director of the Homeland Security Program at the Aspen Institute. “This issue must be addressed by policymakers and corporate leaders alike.”

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