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Critical Infrastructure Protection in the fight against terrorism

Tuesday 3 January 2006, by European Commission

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The European Council of June 2004 asked the Commission and the High Representative to prepare an overall strategy to protect critical infrastructure.

The present Communication gives an overview of the actions that the Commission is currently taking on protection of critical infrastructure and proposes additional measures to strengthen existing instruments and to meet the mandates given by the European Council.


The potential for catastrophic terrorist attacks that affect critical infrastructures is increasing. The consequences of an attack on the industrial control systems of critical infrastructure could vary widely. It is commonly assumed that a successful cyber attack would cause few, if any, casualties, but might result in loss of vital infrastructure service. For example, a successful cyber-attack on the public telephone switching network might deprive customers of telephone service while technicians reset and repaired the switching network. An attack on a chemical or liquid natural gas facility’s control systems might lead to more widespread loss of lives as well as significant physical damage.

Another type of catastrophic infrastructure failure might be when one part of the infrastructure leads to the failure of other parts, causing widespread cascade effect. Such failure might occur due to the synergistic effect of infrastructure industries on each other. A simple example might be an attack on electrical utilities where electricity distribution was disrupted; sewage treatment plants and waterworks could also fail, as the turbines and other electrical apparatuses in these facilities might shut down.

Cascade events can be very damaging too, causing widespread utility outages. The blackouts in North-America and Europe during the last two years have put in evidence the vulnerability of energy infrastructures and consequently the need to find effective measures to prevent/or to mitigate the consequences derived from a major supply disruption. This use of cyberterrorism could also result in an amplification of the physical attack’s effects. An example of this might be a conventional bombing attack on a building combined with a temporary denial of electrical or telephone service. The resulting degradation of emergency response, until back-up electrical or communication systems can be brought into place and used, could increase the number of casualties and public panic.

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Critical Infrastructure Protection in the fight against terrorism

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