The Philosophy and History Behind Compliance, And Its Necessity for Protecting Critical Infrastructure

August 21, 2023

In today's interconnected world, the very pulse of modern society is deeply tied to digital systems. The history and philosophy of compliance, especially in the realm of cybersecurity, underscore a crucial message: our collective safety and security are dependent on robust compliance measures. This is particularly true for critical infrastructures, like power plants, that are the backbone of our civilization.

The origins of compliance and regulation is a tale as old as time. The idea of regulation can be traced back to ancient civilizations, such as Mesopotamia, where the Code of Hammurabi (around 1754 BC) included rules about trade, property rights, and business practices. In medieval Europe, guilds often regulated professions, ensuring quality, setting prices, and defining apprenticeship rules. During the Industrial Revolution, rapid industrialization in the 18th and 19th centuries led to new challenges, like unsafe working conditions and environmental degradation, prompting the need for regulations.

Several core philosophies behind regulations have persisted from ancient times to the present:

Protection of the Public: Regulations often aim to shield the public from harm, whether from unsafe products, hazardous work conditions, or environmental damage.

Market Failures: Imperfections in markets, such as monopolies or information asymmetry, warrant regulatory intervention to ensure efficiency and fairness.

Economic Stability: For instance, in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, banking regulations were globally fortified.

Social Goals: Regulations can serve to reduce income disparities, ensure accessibility to essential services, or shield vulnerable groups.

Political Power Dynamics: The concept of "regulatory capture" denotes situations where industries unduly influence the very agencies meant to monitor them.

In the realm of Operational Technology (OT) systems within critical infrastructure, the inception of ICS/Industrial cybersecurity standards makes sense considering:

Economic and National Stability: A cyberattack on crucial infrastructure, like a power plant, can jeopardize national stability.

Public Trust: Modern compliance measures aim to uphold public trust, akin to historical regulations ensuring quality and reliability in goods and services.

Evolution of Industry: As industrial systems evolved from manual operations to interconnected digital platforms, the associated risks proliferated.

National Security: With industrial sectors' strategic significance, governments globally have embedded OT and ICS cybersecurity within their national defense blueprints.

Convergence of IT and OT: The melding of IT with OT brought forth both advancements and cybersecurity challenges, necessitating regulatory oversight

Growing Cybercrime: The rise of organized cybercrime rings, at times with state backing, called for robust defensive measures.

And the most effective driver of cybersecurity standards and regulations:

High-Profile Incidents: The cyber threat landscape has been punctuated by significant cyberattacks on industrial systems, often leading to surges in security standards.

It can be argued that during “regulation lull periods”, when attacks are rampant but regulations are stagnant, the industry isn't proactive enough in its cybersecurity initiatives. This reactive nature is evidenced by the cyclic introduction of new standards, especially after significant cyber incidents.

For instance, post the threats from Code Red, SQL Slammer, and Conficker in the early 2000s, the industry saw the establishment of the ISA 99 committee, the approval of NERC CIP by FERC, and documentation from DHS CERT around 2007-2008.

Following a brief period of calm, the infamous STUXnet emerged, pushing the industry towards NIST CSF in 2014 and IEC 62443 a few years later.

Fast forward to 2022, in the wake of threats like Black Energy 2 & 3, Dragonfly 2.0, and the impactful Petya/NotPetya, the industry responded with numerous NERC CIP updates, TSA directives, SEC reporting requirements, and the rise of NIS/NIS2 standards in the EU.

The pattern is clear: periods of relative inactivity, during which cyberattacks occur, prompt the industry to establish or reinforce standards. But as history and philosophy teach us, reactive measures alone are insufficient.

A Philosophical Commitment to Proactive Security

The historical trend across cyber incidents reveals the predominantly reactive stance of regulatory bodies. While cybersecurity continuously evolves, the industry often lags behind the ever-adapting tactics of cyber adversaries. To shift this dynamic, a growing consensus underscores the need for a proactive cybersecurity approach, especially for critical infrastructure and industrial organizations. This involves anticipating threats, aligning standards with the evolving threat landscape, and maintaining unwavering vigilance.

Just as ancient regulations protected traders and craftsmen, modern cybersecurity frameworks are tasked with shielding individual privacy and sensitive data. As we progress through an era marked by new requirements and compliance mandates, the inevitability of another "regulation lull" looms. It's during these times that robust monitoring of OT assets, prompt system updates, continuous risk assessments, and strict adherence to both internal and external policies become all the more crucial.

The Imperative for Critical Infrastructure and Industrial Organizations

Entities like power plants, water treatment facilities, transportation systems, and other industrial operators must not only meet the immediate demands of evolving standards but also remain eternally alert. Understanding the spirit behind past regulations and their foundational intent is pivotal.

The intricate tapestry of compliance, tracing back through history and steeped in philosophy, combined with the discernible patterns of recent times, beckons the sentinels of our modern era, particularly those in critical infrastructure and industrial domains, to sustain vigilance. As the stewards safeguarding the intricate dance between our physical and digital worlds, their commitment to cybersecurity goes beyond current standards—it's about foresight and defending against the threats of tomorrow.

How Industrial Defender Can Help

In the vast and complex world of operational technology, having a precise, up-to-date understanding of your OT environment is pivotal. Industrial Defender provides the most comprehensive OT asset data for both security and compliance. This isn't just inventory; it's about facilitating a deep and actionable understanding of the OT landscape, enabling organizations to remain vigilant about potential cybersecurity and operational risks.

Building upon that rich understanding, we also empower organizations to automate their compliance programs effectively. This ensures that systems consistently operate in compliant, known-good, and secure states. Such states aren't only aligned with leading industry benchmarks; they can be custom-tailored to fit individual organizational policies, reflecting your unique corporate governance programs.

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