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A Taxonomy of Critical Infrastructure Sectors

Critical infrastructures (CI) are generally defined as those organisations, institutions, and networks whose functioning is essential to the survival and well-being of a society. They are typically grouped into functional „sectors“ which provide a specific service or good. I am currently thinking about scaling up the concept of CI to the global level – more on that in due course – and an early problem is to decide which sectors of CI I want to look at. You see, there is no globally accepted standard which sectors are considered critical. Instead, every country comes up with its own, slightly different system. But to make a decision, I wanted to have a single, overarching taxonomy.

National Taxonomies of Critical Infrastructure Sectors

So the first step was to collect and compare systems from different countries. For no particular reason except prior knowledge and easy availability, I chose the United States, the European Union, Germany, Canada and France. Each of them had somewhere between ten and nineteen sectors, although the EU’s taxonomy distinguished between essential services and important entities (in grey). I simply listed the sectors in an Excel Sheet and then looked for commonalities. The result is summarized in the screenshot below.

Sectors of Critical Infrastructures across different countries

Column F contains my attempt to derive categories inductively from the different systems. If a national sector is covered by one of the categories, I highlighted the cell in yellow. This was very quick and dirty, in that I didn’t consult specific national definitions of each sector but just made my own assessment. For instance, I saw US/Dams as just a more specific expression of the Energy category rather than belonging to Water. I will accept that this introduces some subjectivity and inaccuracy. But for the purposes of this quick exercise, I am reasonably confident that my results would hold up even with a more thorough approach towards classification.

Towards a Common Taxonomy

The categories that everyone seems to be able to agree upon are as follows: Energy, Food, Health, Finance, ICT, Water, Transport, and Government (although this last category covers national sectors with considerable variation). Some categories are only present in smaller subsets of countries, such as Waste Management or Waste Water, Manufacturing or Industry (which are particularly prevalent in Canada and the US), as well as Space and/or Research (in EU countries only). Other sectors (those whose cells are still in white) are idiosyncratic to particular countries – or I simply missed them when building categories. (I was surprised and dismayed that education only shows up a single time.) But overall, there are certainly enough commonalities across cases that I think this taxonomy is useful for further research.


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