Upgrading Cyber-Physical Systems for National Security
A defining feature of the United States in the 21st century is the level of interconnectivity between persons, corporations, and government agencies. From banking to social media, the vast majority of the American people are online.
Using a smartphone it is possible to track weather forecasts collecting data from government-owned satellites, and to check the arrival and departure times of commercial flights using air traffic control networks. This is all possible due to our advanced critical infrastructure and the key systems that control them.
As digital networks came online and grew in popularity, government agencies and the private sector embrace the technology and deploy it into the systems that monitor our critical infrastructure. As the technology advanced, the systems became more capable of physically affecting the critical systems that they monitored. These ‘cyber-physical systems’ automate air traffic controls by monitoring aircraft and coordinating flight paths and rerouting power currents in the event of a disruption. Through digital networks, people can access and control cyber-physical systems from almost any location on the planet. Due to the importance of critical infrastructure, one would assume that companies routinely test and upgrade these cyber-physical systems to keep pace with trends in modern technology and cybersecurity. That is not always the case.
Cyber-physical systems are difficult to update and modernize because critical infrastructure is so important to daily operations in the United States. Service interruptions could prove challenging or even disastrous. This creates a unique security risk where the installed defenses of the cyber-physical systems become more vulnerable as more state and non-state actors pro-actively develop their own cyber-capabilities.
Thankfully, the Government is taking initial steps to develop stronger cyber-physical systems that are capable of operating effectively while transitioning to more secured systems. The National Science Foundation recently granted $9 million to a five-year Foundations of Resilient Cyber-Physical Systems (FORCES) project involving researchers at MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Michigan; and the President’s FY15 budget requested over $1.3 Billion for cyber security initiatives. These investments could lead to the development of dual-networks that operate simultaneously, allowing for one system to monitor infrastructure while the other is taken offline to be upgraded. It could also fund extensive firewall systems that encase pre-existing networks, limiting access to an incredible degree.
Regardless of the methods, by advancing its cyber-physical systems, the Government and private sector are securing America’s critical infrastructure and a safer tomorrow.