Strengthen Your Cyber Security

Take a number of steps to achieve a comprehensive and robust plan.

By Andrew Ginter, Industrial Defender

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Certain "high risk" chemical facilities present the potential for massive civilian and environmental impact from possible terrorist attacks. Release of chemicals can lead to a major catastrophe, such as the thousands of deaths that followed the leak of methyl isocyanate at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, in 1984 (see: "Grasp All the Lessons of Bhopal").

Even sites that use rather than process chemicals can pose substantial hazards. For instance, in 2007 a faulty alarm at a water treatment facility in Spencer, Mass., caused release of excess sodium hydroxide into the water supply, ultimately injuring more than 100 people. Although to date there've been relatively few direct attempts at compromising chemical facilities, many such sites may lack the necessary levels of protection to properly defend themselves against a sophisticated physical or cyber attack.

So, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on April 9, 2007, issued Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) that aim to ensure effective security at high-risk sites. The mandate of CFATS has been extended to October 2010 and the responsible subcommittee has recommended extending it further to 2015. Every affected facility must conduct a security vulnerability assessment and implement security measures that meet risk-based performance standards (RBPS), which cover such areas as perimeter security, access control, personnel authorization and cyber security. (For a podcast about CFATS, go to

The DHS published a RBPS guidance document in May 2009, to assist high-risk chemical facilities with selecting and implementing appropriate security measures as well as to help DHS personnel with evaluating RBPS compliance.

Many chemical facilities now are in the throes of complying with CFATS. It's crucial that such sites understand practical ways to successfully implement these standards.

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