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Brussels, 30 March 2009

Protecting Critical Information Infrastructures: Frequently Asked Questions

What are Critical Information Infrastructures?

There is no globally shared definition of Critical Information Infrastructures (CII). In its Green Paper on a European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection (EPCIP), the European Commission captured the concept of CII as being all "ICT systems that are critical infrastructures for themselves or that are essential for the operation of critical infrastructures (telecommunications, computers/software, Internet, satellites, etc.)". In 2008, the OECD defined CII as "those interconnected information systems and networks, the disruption or destruction of which would have a serious impact on the health, safety, security, or economic well-being of citizens, or on the effective functioning of government or the economy".

Despite the existing differences in national and international policy contexts, what is important is that the notion of CII is conducive to a holistic policy perspective on the secure and continuous functioning of ICT systems, services, networks and infrastructures (ICT infrastructures) of which the Internet is a very important component, due to its widespread diffusion and the process of technological convergence.

Why is action at EU level to protect these infrastructures urgently needed?

Cyber attacks have risen to an unprecedented level of sophistication. What used to be simple experiments are now turning into sophisticated activities performed for profit or political reasons. The recent large scale cyber-attacks on Estonia, Lithuania and Georgia are the most widely covered examples of a general trend. The huge number of viruses, worms and other forms of malware, the expansion of botnets[1] and the continuous rise of spam confirms that this is a severe problem.

The high dependence on CII, their cross-border interconnectedness and interdependencies with other infrastructures (e.g. energy infrastructures), as well as the vulnerabilities and threats they face raise the need to address their security and resilience in a systemic perspective as the frontline of defence against failures and attacks.

Because of the transnational dimension of this issue, a more integrated and coordinated approach throughout the European Union will usefully complement and add value to the programmes which are already in place within Member States. This will also reinforce the wealth creation capabilities of the Single Market.

It is clear that no single "silver bullet" solution will be able to provide all the answers, but simply leaving the situation as is will not lead to satisfactory results. It is necessary to establish the right policy framework – in particular for economic and societal drivers and incentives – on the basis of a shared responsibility and cooperation amongst all the involved stakeholders. It is vital to promote operational/ tactical cooperation in the short and medium term (until 2010-2011) as well as strategic policy discussion for long-term scenarios (2012 and beyond). The work must start now in order to prepare Europe against large-scale cyber attacks and disruptions.

How does this initiative relate to the debate around European efforts towards an increased and modernised network and information security policy?

The Commission's initiative on Critical Information Infrastructure Protection focuses on prevention, preparedness and awareness and defines a plan of immediate actions running until 2011 to strengthen the security and resilience of CII. The focus and timeframe are consistent with the debate launched at the request of the Council and the European Parliament to address the challenges and priorities for network and information security policy and the most appropriate instruments needed at EU level to tackle them beyond 2012. The work conducted and the lessons learned under the Commission's proposed action plan will be an important contribution to the more general debate on an increased and modernised European policy in this area.

Why is the Commission proposing voluntary rather than binding measures?

Ensuring the security and resilience of CII requires cooperation between public and private actors, which is largely based on trust. A non-binding approach will be more effective in steering a dialogue through which interested parties can work out the best way to cooperate and share best practices. During the consultation process prior to the launch of this initiative, Member States' and private sector representatives strongly supported the proposed initiative and confirmed the need and willingness to cooperate at EU level, as long as this remained voluntary.

This does not mean that a binding approach can not be used to enhance the level of security and resilience of CII. Proposals by the European Commission to reform the Electronic Communication regulatory package – including provisions to strengthen operators’ obligations to ensure that appropriate security measures are taken, and those on mandatory security breach notification – show that binding measures are considered when it is feasible and useful.

Moreover, there is not yet sufficient data on security incidents and their impact across the different sectors to define and frame additional regulatory measures in a consistent economic and public policy perspective.

What are the specific objectives of the Critical Information Infrastructure Protection initiative?

The Commission's proposal covers the following objectives:

  • Foster cooperation, exchange of information and transfer of good policy practices between Member States via a newly-established European Forum.
  • Develop a public-private partnership at the European level on security and resilience of CII to support sharing of information and dissemination of good practices between public and private stakeholders.
  • Enhance incident response capability in the EU by increasing national capacities, possibly built on National or Governmental Computer Emergency Response Teams/Computer Security Incidents Response Teams (CERTs/CSIRTs) as well as by encouraging and supporting the European cooperation between these entities with a view to facilitate the exchange of information, technical measures and good practices.
  • Promote the organisation of national and European exercises for contingency planning and disaster recovery on simulated large-scale network security incidents.
  • Reinforce international cooperation on global issues, in particular on resilience and stability of Internet.

What is the purpose and value of a European Forum for Member States?

Although there are commonalities among the challenges and the issues faced, measures and regimes to ensure the security and resilience of CII, as well as the level of expertise and preparedness, differ across Member States.

Purely national approaches run the risk of producing fragmentation and inefficiency across Europe. Differences in national approaches and the lack of systematic cross-border co-operation substantially reduce the effectiveness of domestic countermeasures, inter alia because, due to the interconnectedness of CII, a low level of security and resilience of CII in a country has the potential to increase vulnerabilities and risks in other ones.

To overcome this situation a European effort is needed to bring added value to national policies and programmes by fostering the development of awareness and common understanding of the challenges; stimulating the adoption of shared policy objectives and priorities; reinforcing cooperation between Member States and integrating national policies in a more European and global dimension.

These are the reasons why the Commission has proposed to establish a European Forum for Member States to share information and good policy practices on security and resilience of CII.

Why a Public-Private Partnership for Resilience (EP3R)?

Enhancing the security and the resilience of CII poses peculiar governance challenges. While Member States remain ultimately responsible for defining CII-related policies, their implementation depends on the involvement of the private sector, which owns or controls a large number of CII. On the other hand, markets do not always provide sufficient incentives for the private sector to invest in the protection of CII at the level that public authorities would normally demand.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) have emerged at the national level as the reference model to address this governance challenge. However, despite the consensus that this approach would also be desirable on the EU level, European PPPs have not materialised so far.

PPP at the EU level could play an important role to complement the work carried out by Member States at national level – in particular, in areas like the exchange/promotion of good policy practices and measures, the implementation of cross-border security and resilience measures for CII, the adoption of preventive measures and response strategies, etc.

A Europe-wide multi-stakeholder governance framework, which may include an enhanced role of ENISA, could foster the involvement of the private sector in the definition of strategic European public policy objectives as well as operational priorities and measures. The focus would be on enhancing the security and resilience of CII and the coordination of preventive and response activities.

This framework would bridge the gap between national and EU policy-making and operational reality on the ground.

What will be the remit and the form of the proposed Public-Private Partnership?

The concrete remit of this PPP might initially consist of:

  • Knowledge sharing to deepen the understanding and mastering of European challenges for the security and resilience of CII;
  • Identification and dissemination of good baseline practices and commonly agreed guidelines and standards for the security and resilience of CII.

The work of this PPP should be focused on specific issues and be action-oriented. The topics discussed should have a cross-border or global dimension.

In terms of form, it is proposed that the setting-up of the European Public Private Partnership for Resilience (EP3R) CII would follow a step-by-step approach so that, on the one hand, stakeholders would discuss and design the necessary building blocks that would best match their requirements and, on the other hand, the work on the key challenges that require this kind of approach could immediately start. The first step of this process is the workshop on the EU policy dimension of vulnerability management and disclosure process of 31 March 2009.

What is the role of the European Network and Information Security Agency in this initiative?

The Commission has called on the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) to play a key role in supporting this initiative by encouraging dialogue and cooperation between Member States, the private sector and other relevant players across Europe, building on the findings and results it has already contributed in this area.

How does this initiative relate to the European Programme on Critical Infrastructure Protection and other EU activities in the area of justice and home affairs?

The activities planned in today's Communication are conducted under and in parallel to the European Programme for Critical Infrastructure Protection (EPCIP). A key element of EPCIP is the Directive on the identification and designation of European Critical Infrastructures, which identifies the ICT sector as a future priority sector. One element of the CIIP action plan is to further develop the criteria for identifying European Critical Infrastructures for the ICT sector which will help implement the above mentioned Directive.

The proposed actions are also complementary to existing third pillar initiatives – e.g. fight against cyber-crime – as envisaged by the Council Framework Decision on Attacks Against Information Systems adopted in 2005 (2005/222/JHA). As the CIIP initiative focuses on prevention, preparedness and awareness to enhance the intrinsic security and resilience of CII, it does not conflict with or duplicate the efforts carried out under the third pillar, i.e. by police and judicial cooperation addressing measures to prevent, fight and prosecute criminal and terrorist activities targeting CII.

How does the Commission's action plan relate to international efforts in this area?

This initiatives takes stock and builds upon recognised international principles such as the G8 principles on CIIP, the UN General Assembly Resolution 58/199 'Creation of a global culture of cybersecurity and the protection of critical information infrastructures' and the recent OECD Recommendation on the Protection of Critical Information Infrastructures.

The initiative complements work conducted by NATO on cyber-security – specifically the common policy on cyber defence and the activities of the Cyber Defence Management Authority (CDMA), announced by NATO on April 2008, as well as the outputs of the NATO's Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD-COE). NATO initiatives are mostly focused on military defence whereas the Commission's proposal works to facilitate the coordination and cooperation of public and private resources and capabilities across Member States.

Does the action plan include regulatory measures for the Internet?

The action plan does not propose any measure aimed at regulating the Internet. It proposes three complementary activities to enhance the resilience and stability of the Internet.

  • The Commission will launch a Europe-wide debate to define EU priorities for the long-term resiliency and stability of the Internet.
  • The Commission will work with Member States to define appropriate principles and guidelines for Internet resilience and stability.
  • The Commission, together with Member States, will develop a roadmap to promote these principles and guidelines at the global level, building upon strategic cooperation with third countries.

What is the timing envisaged by the action plan?

The different actions have different targets and timelines, running from 2009 until the end of 2011. However continuous European efforts will still be needed beyond 2011. A stock-taking exercise will already be conducted at the end of 2010 and lessons learned will be used as an input into the debate on the future of Network and Information Security beyond 2012.

How will the Commission monitor the implementation of the action plan?

The Commission identified in the impact assessment of the Communication a number of indicators for achieving the objectives of the action plan. These include, the number of meetings and conferences organised at EU level with relevance to security and resilience of CII; the agreements on common terminology and procedures for the collection and dissemination of information on economic impacts of security incidents; the number of National/Governmental CERTs participating in the European Governmental CERTs Group; the number of international agreements on mutual assistance, recovery, and remedial strategies for the resilience and stability of the Internet.


[1] A group of computers, often very large, that malicious hackers have brought under their control. While most owners are oblivious to the infection, the networks of tens of thousands of computers are used to launch spam e-mail campaigns, denial-of-service attacks or online fraud schemes.

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