Water Week

EWN Publishing

Water, energy utilities get classified govt computer-modelling to plan for disasters, terror attacks

Posted by waterweek on 10 October 2007

Banks, telecommunications carriers, energy and water utilities would be given access to classified computer modelling by the government to plan for disasters, wrote Julian Bajkowski in The Australian Financial Review (3/10/2007, p.53).

Breakthrough deal: The access came under a new information-sharing deal announced by Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. Part of the Federal Government’s critical infrastructure protection modelling and analysis program (CIPMA), the arrangement was the first time that private industry players would be able to stress-test their own risk modelling against threat data held in trust by Canberra. The results of the modelling would remain confidential between individual companies participating and the government. The agreement was regarded as a breakthrough after more than five years of overtures by security agencies to gain the trust of large corporations.

Blackouts, floods, terror attacks: Under the deal, approved participants including Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Telstra, Qantas and Woodside would be allowed to use GeoScience Australia’s high performance computing facilities to run their own assessments of how disasters such as blackouts, floods or terrorist attacks would affect their business and customers. Ruddock said disruption to water supplies had the potential to disrupt banking services if telecomunications exchanges were unable to run their air-conditioning. “We have already seen the mothballing of some power stations due to lack of water as the deepening effects of the drought take hold,” Ruddock said.

Who pays? But a new concern for industry was whether the government would seek to recover its costs from the new program. It was understood that when the government previously initiated industry-based risk modelling, the agencies concerned footed the bill. These included free or heavily subsidised security testing assessments for specialised industrial systems such as SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) that were used to run facilities like power and water plants, as well as refineries and factories.

Keeping secrets safe: The government has become increasingly worried that the linking of previously closed SCADA systems to vulnerable networking software including Microsoft’s Windows platform could allow hackers, either criminal or military, to disable critical infrastructure. Among the measures used by the Attorney-General’s specialist critical infrastructure protection unit to curtail the SCADA threat was a series of confidential “outreach” seminars, including site visits by Australian Security Intelligence Organisation officers to drive home the point that government expected corporate information security standards to be commensurate with the level of economic and security risk that disruption to a business posed to the community and the economy.

The Australian Financial Review, 3/10/2007, p.53

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