Critical national infrastructure is not just crucial for a country’s economic growth, security, and public health, but it also forms the very foundation on which the entire nation operates. However, recent statements from the UK’s cyber chief, Lindy Cameron, have raised concerns about the enduring and significant threat posed to the nation’s most critical infrastructure. This threat has been further amplified by the rise of state-aligned groups, an alarming increase in aggressive cyber activity, and the ongoing geopolitical challenges faced by the country. It is imperative to address these challenges proactively by securing supply chains, as these malicious attacks not only jeopardise national security but also pose a substantial risk to public safety and the overall stability of the economy.



What is Critical National Infrastructure?

National Infrastructure are those facilities, systems, sites, information, people, networks and processes, necessary for a country to function and upon which daily life depends. It also includes some functions, sites and organisations which are not critical to the maintenance of essential services, but which need protection due to the potential danger to the public (civil nuclear and chemical sites for example). However not everything within national infrastructure is judged to be critical.

Critical national infrastructure refers to the systems, networks, and assets that are essential for the operation of a nation’s economy, security, and public health. These include power grids, transportation systems, communication networks, water supply, and financial institutions, among others. These assets are interconnected and rely on each other to function correctly. Disruption in one critical infrastructure can cause a ripple effect, impacting other systems and sectors. The UK Government refer to critical national infrastructure as:

‘’Those critical elements of infrastructure (namely assets, facilities, systems, networks or processes and the essential workers that operate and facilitate them), the loss or compromise of which could result in:

  1. Major detrimental impact on the availability, integrity or delivery of essential services – including those services whose integrity, if compromised, could result in significant loss of life or casualties – taking into account significant economic or social impacts; and/or
  2. Significant impact on national security, national defence, or the functioning of the state.”



Understanding the Importance of Supply Chain Security for Critical National Infrastructure

The supply chain is the intricate web of processes and entities responsible for the production, distribution, and delivery of goods and services. In the context of critical infrastructure, supply chains play a pivotal role in ensuring the continuous and reliable functioning of essential services. This intricate network involves suppliers, manufacturers, transportation providers, and various intermediaries, all working in harmony to meet the demands of the end-users.

The reliance on third-party suppliers for products, services, and code makes supply chain cyber security a vital aspect of protecting critical national infrastructure. Compromising any part of the supply chain can have far-reaching consequences, as shown by the SolarWinds breach in 2020. This breach was caused by a third-party software provider being compromised, leading to a chain of larger organisations being at risk. This highlights the need for stronger controls throughout the entire supply chain ecosystem and not just within core organisations.

Governments around the world recognise the importance of supply chain cyber security and implement regulations to improve resilience. For instance, the 2021 US Executive Order on improving the Nation’s Cyber security, the EU’s NIS2 Directive, and the UK National Cyber Security Centre’s ‘Cyber Essentials Requirements for IT Infrastructure’ are all aimed at enhancing cyber security measures, including the implementation of Zero Trust frameworks and strong authentication.


The importance of protecting supply chains

Resilience and Continuity

A secure supply chain enhances the resilience of critical infrastructure by minimising the impact of disruptions. Whether caused by natural disasters, cyber threats, or geopolitical events, a robust supply chain ensures that essential services can continue without compromising national security.

Economic Stability

The health of a nation’s critical infrastructure is closely linked to its economic stability. Disruptions in the supply chain can lead to financial losses, increased costs, and economic downturns. Supply chain security is, therefore, an integral component of ensuring sustainable economic growth.

Public Safety and Well-being

Critical infrastructure sectors such as healthcare, energy, and transportation directly influence public safety and well-being. A secure supply chain ensures the timely availability of medical supplies, energy resources, and other essential services, preventing potential crises and ensuring the safety of citizens.

National Security

The interdependence of critical infrastructure sectors makes them attractive targets for malicious actors seeking to exploit vulnerabilities. Supply chain security is not only about economic considerations but also a matter of national security. Protecting critical infrastructure ensures the overall security and sovereignty of a nation.



What can organisations do to protect critical national infrastructure

To protect critical national infrastructure, organisations must prioritise supply chain cyber security. This involves implementing strong authentication measures, conducting thorough risk assessments of supply chain partners, and ensuring compliance with relevant regulations. By taking proactive steps to secure the supply chain, organisations can mitigate the risk of cyberattacks and safeguard critical infrastructure from potentially catastrophic consequences.


A multi-faceted approach:

Asset inventory and risk assessments

By identifying and assessing vulnerabilities, organisations can gain a comprehensive understanding of potential risks. Regular audits and risk assessments play a vital role in prioritising security measures and ensuring that appropriate actions are taken to mitigate any potential threats. These proactive measures help organisations stay one step ahead, safeguarding their assets and maintaining a robust security posture.

Security patching and updates

To ensure robust security, it is imperative to prioritise regular security patching and system updates. By upgrading legacy systems and promptly applying the latest security patches, organisations can effectively address and close known vulnerabilities, mitigating potential risks and safeguarding valuable assets. This proactive approach helps to maintain a secure and resilient environment in the face of evolving threats.

Employee training

Training plays a crucial role in equipping employees with the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively identify and respond to cyber threats. By instilling a culture of cyber security awareness, organisations can mitigate insider risks and establish a strong and resilient cyber security framework that proactively safeguards sensitive information and systems. This comprehensive approach not only ensures ongoing protection but also fosters a sense of collective responsibility, empowering employees to actively contribute to the security of the organisation.

Supply chain security

Evaluating and enhancing supply chain security measures becomes crucial to prevent compromises and safeguard sensitive information. By aligning the level of security in an organisations supply chain with their own, they can ensure a consistent level of awareness and robust security throughout their entire business operations. This comprehensive approach helps to mitigate potential risks, enhance resilience, and maintain the trust and confidence of your stakeholders. 

Access control

Implementing robust access control and monitoring systems can prevent unauthorised remote access. organisations can employ an access control protocol like ‘Zero Trust’ to make sure only those who require access are granted it, whilst nefarious access requests are spotted, logged, and dealt with promptly.



Protect your supply chain with Arx Alliance

The Arx platform is unique. Our approach is collaborative rather than prescriptive. We give you the tools and the framework to create robust, secure supply chains in a way that is effective, and cuts through the noise and jargon of a complex industry.

Over time, through a guided step-by-step process, we can help you identify and mitigate risks inside your own organisation, and collaborate with your suppliers to create robust, secure supply chain relationships.

Arx provides your organisation and suppliers with a suite of tools:

  • Visibility of the organisation’s attack surfaces
  • Efficient control of cyber policies and standards
  • Central place for managing standards and controls
  • Continuous monitoring of all touch points
  • Situational awareness for all tiers of supply chain
  • Risk scored suppliers to highlight weak links