Understanding SCADA security

SCADA systems are supervisory systems and are used to unify the decentralized facilities of power, gas and oil pipelines and water and wastewater distribution channels. The SCADA systems are highly preferred because they are robust, open and easy to operate, maintain and repair. However, they are not secure.
During the inception of the SCADA systems, the designers focused on scalability, robustness and flexibility. Since these systems connected to localized plant units, the designers did not worry much about the security of the systems.

Nevertheless, with the advent of web technology and boom of the internet, the demand to connect the SCADA systems over the office and mobile networks for easy accessibility has increased drastically. With no conventional security parameters, the access of these systems over the web makes them vulnerable to hackers and other notorious entities.

Another major reason for SCADA systems being prone to attacks is the transit from proprietary systems to open solutions and standards. Also, the number of connections between the SCADA unit, office network and the Internet has made them vulnerable to the network attacks.

Some of the burning issues in the SCADA system security include:

• Authentication of the design, deployment techniques and operation of the existing SCADA networks.

• Doubt on the security through obscurity with specialized protocols and interfaces, which are no more prevalent in the SCADA niche

• The contradictory belief that the physical security of the SCADA systems makes them impenetrable virtually as well.

Why is the Security of the SCADA systems important?

SCADA systems control and monitor physical processes such as electricity transmission, oil and gas transportation, traffic maintenance, water distribution and other pillars of the modern infrastructure. In such a case, if the security of SCADA systems is compromised, then modern life, as one sees today, will come to a halt. For instance, if there is a breach in the SCADA unit in the electrical department, then there will be a blackout which can cause power and financial loss to customers who receive supply from that source.

Some of the common threat vectors to the modern day SCADA units:

1. Unauthorized access to control software which can be done via human access or can be induced automatically by virus injections and software threats on the control host system.

2. The threat of access of packets to the network segments which host SCADA devices is another potential threat. In most cases, the control protocols lack cryptographic security and thus, allow the attacker to control SCADA devices remotely by sending commands over networks.

Security Controls and Features

Securing the SCADA over networks is as crucial as securing SCADA devices physically. One way to do so is to implement all security features which have been proposed by the SCADA vendors. These parameters are usually in the form of product patches or updates.

Apart from this, the personnel in charge of maintenance should be properly trained as well as aware of all the features which have been enabled in the system and how to configure them again, if need be. In a case of new SCADA systems, the deployment is done with basic security requirements which ensure convenient installation and provide maximum usability as well.

The security of the SCADA systems rests in the hands of the providers as well. They must provide with the necessary security features for a robust and secure system. A careful risk assessment which eliminates the possible threats can help define the security standards for the SCADA systems.


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