Queen's University

Canada's critical infrastructure may be vulnerable to terrorists, hackers, thieves and neglect, study finds

 
2011-12-07

Canada needs a cohesive plan to protect fragile and poorly protected infrastructure from terrorists, hackers and neglect, according to new study by Queen’s University professor Andrew Graham.

The study, called Canada's Critical Infrastructure: When is Safe Enough Safe Enough?, identifies numerous threats, including natural disasters, terrorism, theft, hackers, vandals and underinvestment by infrastructure owners.

"Critical infrastructures sustain our way of life," said Professor Graham, who teaches in the School of Policy Studies. "We expect to pick up the phone and hear a dial tone, turn a switch and have power, get a ready supply of fuel for a natural gas furnace, and to turn a faucet for safe drinking water," he added. "We expect a lot, and we get it most of the time, but what we ignore is the inherent fragility of the systems that deliver this way of life. When something goes wrong, it is too late to ask: are we safe enough?"

Increasing integration of information technology into all forms of infrastructure mean that cyber threats, including on-line attacks, are adding a whole new layer of vulnerability.

Ice storms, floods and rail and road blockades of recent years have underlined how even small disruptions in the services we rely on can dramatically affect our lives. Professor Graham’s study assesses current efforts to address those threats and suggests themes for building on the work already being done by governments and the private sector.

"What is missing is a cohesive and sustainable approach to Canada's infrastructure. That approach should be led by the federal government, but must be accompanied by a healthy recognition that such leadership cannot carry the full responsibility for either identifying threats and risks, or doing something about them. That responsibility lies in many hands," said Professor Graham.

Professor Graham’s report outlines key elements needed to ensure a more secure and sustainable approach to critical infrastructure threats, including: a clear cataloguing of the country’s critical infrastructure; adequate reinvestment to avoid increasing vulnerability through neglect; and ways to provide incentives for the private sector to invest in critical infrastructure protection.

Included in the critical infrastructure list are vital systems most Canadians never think about: energy generation and distribution, financial institutions, food supply system, information and communications technology and health care institutions.

The study is published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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