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What Is Critical Infrastructure Protection?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 17, 2024
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Critical infrastructure protection defines national plans to identify and preserve key resources and assets from threats affecting the health and safety of citizens or economic activity. These plans set policies and strategies to prevent, discover, address, and recover from any incident that threatens critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure protection might include communication systems, transportation facilities, information stored or delivered electronically, commerce, and energy resources.

Infrastructure plans typically include sharing information within government departments. They also incorporate methods to address critical infrastructure protection in the private sector, such as sharing intelligence information with companies that operate gas or oil pipelines. Threats or vulnerabilities affecting a country’s resources might be shared at the federal, state, or local level, depending on the importance of the information. A system to alert the public of national security threats typically appears in critical infrastructure protection plans.

A security clearance might be required before defense intelligence can be shared. The source of information is typically kept confidential, especially if information poses a threat to national security or public safety. In some countries, different governmental agencies handle critical infrastructure protection plans in certain areas, such as the transportation department.

Transportation infrastructure protection might include major highways, bridges, railways, and petroleum pipelines. It also typically addresses air transportation, including air traffic control operations and airport security. Protection plans aim to prevent the disruption of human travel or commerce, with different activities ranked in order of importance. Officials determine whether a resource is deemed critical depending on its purpose, location, and potential harm to the economy if the transportation service goes down.

Critical infrastructure protection efforts analyze the effects of terrorism attacks on vital resources, and vulnerabilities that might exist. Terrorists might use biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons to disrupt vital operations in a country. Natural disasters, such as floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes, might also harm physical infrastructure or the ability to communicate. Riots, political unrest, pandemics, and sabotage represent other threats examined under protection plans.

A growing concern in many countries centers on potential threats to technology-based systems, including satellite networks vital to maintain communication. Many financial institutions rely on technology to store information considered critical to economic activity. Emergency workers responding to natural disasters or accidents also depend upon these communication systems to coordinate recovery efforts.

Critical infrastructure protection includes a country’s energy resources. Protection plans typically include safeguards for the creation, distribution, and transportation of supplies and preservation of reserves in storage. These plans might include geothermal and nuclear power plants.

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