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Critical Infrastructure

Updated on March 8, 2024
Article byPrakhar Gajendrakar
Edited byShreeya Jain
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Critical Infrastructure?

The critical infrastructure is the entire system of physical and intangible assets that work together to form the smooth functioning of the society and nation’s economy. The purpose is to provide the essential services and functions that are necessary for the well-being, security, and functioning of a society.

Critical Infrastructure

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The utility of national critical infrastructure is widely spread across 16 different sectors. Moreover, at the core, each one is directly or indirectly connected and depends on the other. Each sector has its operational activities and contribution to the whole economy. Disruption or damage to critical infrastructure can have severe consequences, leading to significant economic losses, social instability, and threats to public safety.

Key Takeaways

  • Critical infrastructure defines the whole body of systems comprising physical, virtual, and human assets that function the society and economy.
  • These elements play a crucial role in maintaining national security, public health, safety, and overall well-being.
  • These sectors are considered vital components of a country’s infrastructure. Therefore, their proper functioning is integral to maintaining public health, safety, and economic prosperity.
  • The purpose of these is multifaceted, encompassing societal well-being, economic stability, national security, and the overall resilience of a nation in the face of various challenges.

Critical Infrastructure Explained

Critical infrastructure represents the entire system and network of assets that produce or offer goods and services to regulate society smoothly. It comprises physical, virtual, and human resources assets across different industries. Hence, everything around an ordinary citizen is part of critical infrastructure, for instance, roads, bridges, dams, healthcare support, agriculture, food and water supply, emergency services, etc.

Furthermore, these elements play a crucial role in maintaining national security, public health, safety, and overall well-being. Critical infrastructure sectors often depend on each other. For example, energy is needed for water treatment, and transportation is crucial for the distribution of goods.

Thus, without proper regulation, monitoring, and maintenance, the whole system becomes prone to cyber-attacks and disrupts the daily lives of ordinary people. There have been significant instances of such attacks. For example, hackers can extract critical information and demand ransom from their targets.

It is not only the government’s responsibility to conservthese infrastructures and critical resources but to constantly work to improve them and protect them from any form of internal and external loopholes and threats. Therefore, the better these infrastructures are, the more they resemble a good and developing global image of a nation’s economy. If attacks become persistent, they degrade people’s belief in their government and do not look good for an economy in the world market.

Moreover, governments often establish regulations and standards to ensure the security of critical infrastructure. Additionally, due to the global nature of threats, nations often collaborate to address challenges to this infrastructure on an international scale.

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Sectors

There are various critical infrastructure assets in various sectors that comprise the whole physical, cyber, and human resources systems of the US –

  1. Agriculture and Food – Agricultural and food supply are some of the most critical infrastructure assets comprising physical and human resources.
  2. Defense– The industrial base is an imperative infrastructure as governments tend to work, design, research, and develop military weapons, artillery, subsystems, and other components used by national forces.
  3. Government Facilities – For every federal or state government work, offices are set up and established to help people requiring any need.
  4. Information Technology – This division helps automate a process. Thus, by storing long-format data and information of people and confidential documents of citizens and businesses. Hence safeguarding the entire system with solutions and digital tools. It is indirectly responsible for critical infrastructure protection and safeguarding the entire design of processes.
  5. Transportation – The government started public transportation services, like the metro, local buses, and trams, to offer affordable and easy access to transportation for people to travel in peace.
  6. Dams and constructions – Dams come under the ideology of saving natural resources like water and diverting them to different places for correct usage and optimum applications.
  7. Energy – It is an inevitable requirement to ensure other aspects and systems run perfectly; providing electricity and other forms of energy to people and their homes is a significant field of work.
  8. Healthcare and Public Health – People constantly need excellent and affordable healthcare programs and schemes. It is a significant infrastructure model required for people and their well-being.
  9. Water and Water Treatment Systems – Clean water supply and water treatment for sanitation and irrigation are crucial. It is an asset and citizens’ right to have proper water utilities available to them.

Examples

Let’s check out a few examples for a better idea:

Example #1

Let’s consider a nation’s electricity grid, a complex and interconnected system that comprises power generation facilities, transmission lines, and distribution networks. Power plants, whether they rely on nuclear, fossil fuels, or renewable sources, are essential components. Hence, the electricity generated undergoes a meticulous process of transmission across vast networks of high-voltage lines before reaching local distribution systems that supply power to homes, businesses, and critical facilities. The reliable functioning of this infrastructure is paramount for everyday life.

Therefore,  supporting everything from lighting and heating in households to powering essential services like hospitals, communication networks, and emergency response systems. Disruptions to the electricity grid, whether caused by natural disasters, cyberattacks, or other threats, can have cascading effects, impacting various sectors and posing significant risks to national security and public welfare. Hence, safeguarding the electricity grid is a critical priority, involving measures such as robust cybersecurity, infrastructure resilience planning, and coordinated response strategies.

Example #2

Australia launched another information-sharing network called the Information Sharing and Analysis Centre (CI-ISAC). It will become another critical infrastructure for the Australian continent, and the asset will be located in the Sunshine Coast city of Maroochydore.

Since every element of Australia’s infrastructure resides in the local government territory, the office is looking forward to hiring all 537 members. There are a total of 11000 organizations that can become members of it. However, the ISAC will primarily focus on the 22 asset classes and 11 infrastructures under the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act.

Hence, the whole purpose of it is to provide critical infrastructure security by enabling the members to detect attackers in their network and become familiar with the latest attacking techniques.

Importance

The importance of critical infrastructure is as follows –

  • All the assets and systems are tools to offer services to people and organizations in a country.
  • It reflects the government of a country and its functioning process.
  • Every critical infrastructure directly or indirectly contributes to the nation’s economy and the smooth functioning of its society daily.
  • If a single infrastructure falls or faces irregularity or attack, it directly impacts the people and brings impact to other bodies, systems, and assets.
  • Without proper management of these critical infrastructures, there will be chaos for the general public.
  • Critical infrastructure certifications are available online as courses and training programs to make people aware of their importance and scope.
  • These infrastructures are also critical sources of generating revenue and providing for the nation’s citizens.
  • Every nation strives to improve these critical infrastructures and provide citizens with the best services and utilities.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is critical infrastructure security?

It is the protection, prevention, and precaution required to safeguard all physical and virtual assets. It relates to the Industrial control systems (ICS), including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), responsible for automating industrial processes in critical infrastructure industries. Cyberattacks on SCADA are serious concerns for the US government.

2. What are the three elements of critical infrastructure?

The three critical infrastructure elements are closely interlinked; they are – 
– Physical – It represents tangible assets and systems.
– Virtual – intangible and digital assets installed for a better process.
– Humans – assets that require human force and manual labor.
Any negative impact on these elements would greatly impact the economic security of the US government.

3. Is critical infrastructure protection an international concern?

Yes, critical infrastructure protection is an international concern. Nations often collaborate to address global threats, share best practices, and enhance the resilience of critical infrastructure on an international scale. International cooperation is essential in addressing cybersecurity challenges.

This article has been a guide to what is Critical Infrastructure. Here, we explain the topic in detail, including its sectors, examples, and importance. You may also find some useful articles here –

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