Mission critical systems

Mission Critical Systems

Any process, equipment, component, or software essential to the operation or survival of an organization is considered a mission-critical system. The failure or interruption of such a system would significantly affect other operations.

For something to be regarded as mission-critical, it needs to fulfill any one of the following conditions:

  1. Critical applications and business functions have been affected
  2. Critical research and/or information has been compromised
  3. Human safety, life, or wellbeing is at risk
  4. The entity has experienced the loss of or access to data
  5. The parties affected by the system failure are subject to legal, financial, or regulatory repercussions
  6. The reputation of the organization or individual has been adversely affected

When a mission-critical system becomes necessary for the smooth day-to-day operations of a business, it becomes a business-critical system. When it fails or gets interrupted, it can result in customer disgruntlement, financial losses, and a significant productivity reduction.

The main difference between a mission-critical and a business-critical system lies in the overall impact an outage would have on the affected entities. When mission-critical systems fail, the results translate to failure in a goal (mission) -oriented activity such as the delivery of utilities, saving of lives, prevention of injuries, etc.

On the other hand, when business-critical systems fail, the impact is economic. For instance, breached contracts and loss of customers may result from the outage of such a system.

Recognizing mission-critical systems plays an important role in developing appropriate measures for risk identification, assessment, and control. Managing critical systems takes an iterative four-step approach which involves:

  1. The identification of all the systems that are integral to an organization
  2. Mapping the relationships between these systems and identifying the risks based on their interactions
  3. Integrating all business processes and systems with the existing security standards on an ongoing basis
  4. Monitoring these systems in real-time to analyze all real and potential risks

A few common examples of mission-critical systems include:

  • Aircraft and railway control systems
  • Database servers and data centers
  • Electric power distribution systems
  • First-responder communication systems
  • Water treatment facility pumps
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