The Basics of Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure

In July 2021, the presidential administration signed a National Security Memorandum on Improving Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Control Systems. As these systems are a part of daily life, any damage to them would be a significant threat to national security. To prevent a national crisis, the administration launched an effort to improve cybersecurity across critical infrastructure sectors. The first part of this four-part blog series will cover the basics of critical infrastructure cybersecurity. Subsequent blogs will dive deeper into the Water and Wastewater, Electric and Utility and Transportation sectors respectively.

Carahsoft Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Blog 1 Embedded Image 2023Realities of Critical Infrastructure Environments

Increasing Industrial Control Systems (ICS) security ranks is a top priority to protect critical US infrastructure and national security. ICS is an information system that is used to control industrial processes such as manufacturing, product handling, production and distribution. These information systems can face a variety of threats from foreign and national bad actors who aim to gather intelligence and disrupt critical functions. With evolving technology, ICS operators must ensure that they implement new cybersecurity functions when connecting Operational Technology (OT) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to Information Technology (IT) systems.

Best security practices for ICS include:

  • Restricting logical access to the system’s network and activity through protections such as firewalls to pause network traffic
  • Implementing unidirectional gates
  • Restricting physical access to the ICS devices and network to avoid disruptions to the system’s functionality
  • Securing all ICS individual components
  • Protecting against unauthorized data changes through network oversight
  • Having a response plan for potential incidents[1]

CISA’s Cybersecurity Performance Goals

Section 4 of the National Security Memorandum required the Department of Homeland Security to create baseline cybersecurity guidelines.

To further advance this, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has released a number of initiatives for agencies to implement that would strengthen their security systems. Every day, CISA works with ICS asset owners and operators to help them identify, protect against and detect cybersecurity threats, as well as to enhance ICS technical, analytical and response capabilities. CISA is working hard with critical infrastructure organizations to improve on the common issues they see, including:

  • Without basic security protections and foundational measures, critical infrastructure systems are vulnerable to exploit by methods that are easily preventable.
  • Limitation of resources continues to be a challenge for small- and medium-sized organizations.
  • There are inconsistencies in the standards for cyber maturity across the various critical infrastructure sectors, leaving security gaps that can be exploited.
  • Cybersecurity in IT systems are prioritized, leaving OT systems overlooked and outdated.

CISA offers a wide array of resources to help critical infrastructure organizations. These include the 2022 Cybersecurity Performance Goals—the CPGs. The CPGs are intended to be both voluntary and not comprehensive. It is not a mandated act for agencies to implement, nor does it consist of every helpful cybersecurity practice for every organization. Rather, they are intended as a beginner guideline that can be communicated to a non-technical audience. The CPGs were set as a baseline set of cybersecurity practices that are broadly applicable across critical infrastructure and have known risk-reduction value for IT and OT owners. And lastly, the CPGs stand out from other control frameworks by not only considering practices that address risk to individual entities, but also the aggregate risk to the nation.[2]

The Cross-Sector Cybersecurity Performance Goals provide a set of IT and OT cybersecurity practices that will help organizations increase cyber resilience in their Critical Infrastructure systems. CISA has organized the practices into 8 categories:

  • Account Security
  • Device Security
  • Data Security
  • Governance and Training
  • Vulnerability Management
  • Supply Chain / Third Party
  • Response and Recovery
  • Other

In March 2023 CISA released and updated version of the CPGs to include a key updates from the October 2022 guidelines.

  • The CPGs have been reordered to fit the NIST CSF functions, and accompanying documents have been adjusted to reflect this.
  • The Multifactor Authentication (MFA) goal has been updated to reflect the most recent CISA guidelines.
  • To aid in organizations’ recovery planning, CISA added a goal based around GitHub feedback.
  • There were slight changes made to the glossary to not only reflect the previously listed changes, but to acknowledge additional stakeholders who’ve contributed to the guidelines.

To better connect with the greater community, there are now additional opportunities to provide input on the goals CISA discussion page. CISA welcomes feedback from partners in cybersecurity and critical infrastructure communities.

Check back to read our second installment of this critical infrastructure series that will cover the best cybersecurity practices in the water and wastewater sectors.


To learn more about protecting agencies against cyber-attacks, visit Carahsoft’s Cybersecurity Solutions Portfolio.



[1] “Recommended Cybersecurity Practices for Industrial Control Systems,” CISA,

[2] “Cross-Sector Cybersecurity Performance Goals,” CISA,

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