Friday, March 6, 2015

Protecting Our Critical Infrastructures - Canada’s IT infrastructure and it's affect on the US Energy Sector?

How might a significant disruptions to Canada’s IT infrastructure affect the United States (US) Energy Sector? 


Executive Summary
The objective of this discussion is to understand how a significant disruption to the Canadian IT Infrastructure may have an effect on the US Energy Sector. With Canada being responsible for 28% of the US oil and petroleum products (eia.gov, 2013), it is imperative that the US considers this risk and plan the necessary mitigation and or recovery measures for any identified risk.

Understanding the Risk
Canada’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector is considered one of its 10 Critical Infrastructures. The primary responsibility for protecting this sector is shared among the various levels of governments along with critical infrastructure owner and operators (publicsafety.gc.ca, n.d.). 
For this post, threats to this sector can be viewed from 3 perspectives natural, intentional and accidental incidents.
1.       Natural
The ice storm which affected Canada in 1998 is a prime example of how natural disasters may affect the ITC sector. This storm left more than 3 million people without power bringing down hydro poles and telephone lines (Harris, n.d.). 

2.       Intentional
Acts by terrorist, activists, hacktivists, etc., to disrupt ICT can occur either by directly targeting locations hosting these services or via disrupting the power grid, etc. Intentional penetration and intrusion of the ICT sector can have devastating effects as ICT is responsible for operating the Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) which controls the devices responsible for managing oil refineries, etc.

3.       Accidental
Inadequate operator training has been one of the issues identified for the blackout which affected the eastern seaboard in August 2003 (Final Report on the August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States and Canada: Causes and Recommendations, 2004)

For each of the threats identified above, the following risk should be considered.
    1.  Loss of Life
        During the winter months when gas is most used for heating purposes, the gas can be cut off. This will more than likely result in deaths.
        Similarly, during the summer months when gas is used for cooling, there can be a loss of life. I don't see this as severe as shutting the gas off in winter.
      
      
    2.    Complete shutdown of SCADA Systems
        With 28% of US Energy coming from Canada, the after effects from a complete shutdown can be devastating, extending beyond the energy sector.
      
      
    3.    Manipulation of the chemicals
        Controlling the type and quantity of the chemicals is another problem which can have an effect on the US Energy Sector as the expected quality may be affected.
  
  
    4.    Manipulate the readings
        Deliberate acts such as breaking into the IT Systems and controlling the SCADA systems can leave a false sense of security by showing incorrect values on the displays when the value is actually different.

Mitigations
Establish working partnerships between key members of Canadian government at the Federal, Provincial, Territorial and or local authorities along with ICT owners and the US Energy Sector.
Work with the Canadian government to perform regular “war games” similar to what was recently done with the United Kingdom (UK) (Kharpal, 2015).
Provide the Canadian Government and its Critical Infrastructure Partners with timely, accurate information about risks and threats
Perform yearly risk management to identify and or address any existing and or new risks

Recovery (if mitigations failed)
Implementing a Business Continuity Plan (BCP)  

Strategic planning
By reducing its dependencies on foreign oil and petroleum products, tapping other sources of energy such as off shore supplies and vast natural gas reserves, doubling efforts on clean energy resources (wind, solar, etc) along with developing new technologies that uses less energy (Slack, 2012), the US Energy Sector will be able to address these risks.

Summary
While it may be possible for the US to reduce it dependency on foreign oil and petroleum products, the probability of eliminating it is practically zero. Therefore, efforts must always be made to mitigate any risks identified within Canada’s IT infrastructure that may have an impact on the US Energy Sector. More importantly, as can be seen from above, there are a number of ways in which ICT within Canada can have an effect on the US Energy Sector as it is not likely to fail by itself but more as a cascading effect of some other event which may be natural, intentional or accidental.


References

(n.d.). Retrieved from publicsafety.gc.ca: https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/srtg-crtcl-nfrstrctr/index-eng.aspx
(2013, May 10). Retrieved from eia.gov: http://www.eia.gov/energy_in_brief/article/foreign_oil_dependence.cfm
(2010). Canada-United States Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure. Homeland Security, Public Safety Canada.
(2004). Final Report on the August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States and Canada: Causes and Recommendations. U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force.
Harris, E. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/magazine/ma98/feature_ice_storm.asp
Kharpal, A. (2015, Jan 16). Retrieved from cnbc.com: http://www.cnbc.com/id/102344021#.
Slack, M. (2012, March 01). Retrieved from whitehouse.gov: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/03/01/our-dependence-foreign-oil-declining

 


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