Defense of SCADA systems

September 6, 2023

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) networks oversee essential infrastructure solutions like water, oil, electricity and gas networks – essential elements to modern society and economies alike, but often under attack from cyber criminals. Defense of SCADA systems requires an effective blend of network security, physical security and network monitoring measures. Coordinating all cybersecurity efforts ensures your business is safe from threats and non-compliance risks.

Network Security

Defense of SCADA systems is of utmost importance in order to safeguard everyone involved with operating and monitoring industrial processes. Without adequate cybersecurity measures in place, these networks could become vulnerable to both online and physical attacks.

As part of your network defense strategy, the first step should be completing an inventory of devices and data sources that connect to it. Doing this will enable you to quickly identify vulnerabilities before they emerge and take necessary preventive steps against potential breaches.

Once you’ve documented every device and connection, it is time to implement monitoring and detection controls such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDSs) or other security solutions to safeguard against cyber threats.

A good security solution should provide alerts whenever threats are identified on your network, as well as detailed reports on device activity so you can monitor what’s going on and make changes as needed to avoid future problems.

As part of your network’s defense, make sure all hardware is connected via secure connections. HTTPS provides this secure encryption protocol that ensures data sent between server and remote client stays private and unaltered during transmission.

Utilizing this type of network connection ensures that only authorized users can gain entry to your system and have the proper credentials. Your passwords can even be encrypted with unique keys so it’s harder for anyone to decipher them and gain entry.

SSL connections can also help safeguard process data transferred over the internet to and from a SCADA system, protecting it from being intercepted by hackers. With encryption protections such as these SSL certificates provide, any information transferred is safe from being intercepted by anyone trying to see what you’re up to.

As part of your network security measures, it’s crucial that software running on your control servers is regularly updated in order to reduce risks such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting.

Additionally, to reduce the risk of attack on your SCADA network and to safeguard it in the future, unneeded network services and daemons should be deleted to make your network more secure. It is impossible to predict what features and services might become necessary at some point in the future – taking this approach will ensure your security as you simply cannot know exactly which services and features may become necessary in time.

Physical Security

Security of industrial control systems (ICSs) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADAs) is paramount to maintaining efficient critical infrastructure networks. Cyber attacks that disrupt their operation could create serious disruptions that affect performance, business profitability and reputation negatively.

Protecting these networks requires taking a comprehensive, cyber-physical approach to ICS/SCADA security that addresses both internal and external threats, including physically access control and monitoring any breaches in the system by unauthorized personnel.

Organizations typically employ physical security strategies and measures to restrict the entry of unauthorised people into restricted locations, but also for environmental controls or restricted areas within a facility. Strategies, barriers, and techniques used in physical security range from simply fencing off an area with fences or gates to employing multiple access controls that physically isolate various locations connected to an ICS/SCADA system.

1. Deterrents – Physical security includes deterrents such as alarms, cameras and surveillance that can prevent potential intruders from accessing property or buildings.

2. Detection – These security devices enable you to quickly recognize an intruder or security event and take the appropriate measures before it escalates further.

3. Delay – These security devices and systems will impede an intruder as they attempt to gain entry, giving you time to respond before significant damage occurs.

4. Countermeasures – Countermeasures are intended to mitigate the repercussions of security breaches, and can be implemented when risk evaluation identifies their importance.

5. Education – To effectively implement physical security policies and procedures, physical security policies and procedures must be communicated to staff and end users so they understand why adherence is critical – helping them feel safe while also decreasing the likelihood that any policy violations occur accidentally or accidentally.

Physical security plans can ensure your ICS and SCADA systems and data remain protected against threats, while also keeping employees and customers safe to ensure a positive experience when visiting or working with your company.

Network Monitoring

SCADA systems are used to regulate essential services like electric power distribution, wastewater treatment, natural gas and oil pipelines, hydroelectric dams, traffic lights and train switching systems – among others. Unfortunately, due to their criticality they’re also highly vulnerable to security breaches and threats.

One way of protecting SCADA systems is through network monitoring. This involves analyzing real-time sensor data to identify any irregularities which could lead to system outages or breakdowns.

Information collected is then passed to remote terminal units (RTUs) or programmable logic controllers, which then convert it to actionable forms before heading into a human-machine interface, or HMI, that provides operators with an overview of the entire system to help them analyze and make decisions more quickly and accurately.

An essential part of any SCADA system, the user interface allows employees to monitor equipment status and diagnose any potential problems as well as take control of specific pieces in case of emergency situations.

Similarly, when sensors indicate excessive vibration from a plywood cutting machine, an operator can program software to immediately shut it off to protect materials and people working around it from being damaged or injured by it.

An essential feature of a SCADA system is the alarm supervision and management feature, which notifies employees about anomalies that arise within it. This feature can either be activated automatically by the system or set manually through an RTU device.

No matter the way it is set up, alarm monitoring is an indispensable component to protecting against internal and external attacks on industrial infrastructure. By watching alarms closely, you can detect and respond quickly to threats such as ransomware or cyber espionage that threaten it.

Hardening your SCADA network should be taken as seriously as any other security measure; this means removing or disabling any unnecessary services, daemons or applications present on it to reduce vulnerability risk to data.

Be sure to establish an effective system to track audit trails for important activities, like user logins and changes to operational parameters. Doing this will allow you to identify potentially malicious acts that need analyzing and correcting.

Backup

SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition and it enables almost every industrial automation process. SCADA controls and automates water, gas and oil applications as well as manufacturing processes such as waste management, transportation, aerospace defense systems, agriculture mining production as well as lumber production.

SCADA systems consist of various components, including field device controllers (PLCs or programmable logic controllers), supervisory computers, remote terminal units (RTUs), interfaces and communication infrastructure that connect these devices to a centralized control hub. Data from SCADA sensors is processed and visualized on human machine interfaces or HMIs to allow real-time monitoring, production scheduling, inventory control logistics management as well as emergency response.

Backups are an integral component of any SCADA security strategy, providing access to an archive of inputs, outputs, set points, alarms and points logs in case any hardware or software malfunction arises. This includes configuration settings for field instruments, variable speed drives, controllers PCs and network devices as well as software backups of operating systems drivers applications control programs visualization configurations historical data alarm/event logs among many other sources.

Time-based (hot) backups are an excellent solution for mission-critical systems that cannot afford downtime, yet may run the risk of corrupting the database and losing process and configuration data recorded since its last backup. Cold backups offer greater protection in case of unexpected disaster, so whenever possible they should be employed.

Organizations seeking to protect SCADA systems should implement cyber security measures that isolate these systems from their networks and protect against any malicious attacks, such as installing firewalls and intrusion detection systems with strong password protections for accessing them.

Additional safeguards should include encrypting network traffic to prevent unintended individuals from intercepting sensitive data and installing strict policies on SCADA servers for storing sensitive files. Lastly, an effective backup and recovery plan must be in place so OT staff have all of the information they require in case of an emergency situation.

With an effective backup and recovery plan in place, OT staff can collaborate with IT to protect their data from potential loss – helping to minimize downtime and avoid disruptions.

Ammar Fakhruddin

ABOUT AUTHOR

Ammar brings in 18 years of experience in strategic solutions and product development in Public Sector, Oil & Gas and Healthcare organizations. He loves solving complex real world business and data problems by bringing in leading-edge solutions that are cost effective, improve customer and employee experience. At Propelex he focuses on helping businesses achieve digital excellence using Smart Data & Cybersecurity solutions.


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