SCADA Vulnerabilities

SCADA Vulnerabilities and Security Threats

The control systems are some of the most vital infrastructure systems providing water, transportation and power. The biggest parts of these systems are Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems or SCADA Systems.

So, what is SCADA?

A SCADA system performs data acquisition in real time. With the reports being generated in real time, these systems can be used for control and monitor as well prediction and forecasting and raising alarms.

Unlike the operating or application systems, the SCADA systems are distributed as bundled packages by the sellers. Therefore, the end user will have no idea about the integrated working of such a system which makes SCADA prone to threats and vulnerabilities.

Vulnerabilities In SCADA Systems


scada vulnerabilities

When the SCADA systems were developed, the end goal was the creation of control systems that provided optimum performance with features that allowed easy control and quick task completion. During the inception phase of the SCADA systems, more focus was given to how the framework could be developed to accommodate scaling, automation and versatility. In this scenario, the security aspects were overlooked. This happened mainly because of the misconception that the SCADA networks since being isolated from other networks, were hidden from intruders.

However, with the expansion of the industries and the steady popularity of the SCADA systems due to their multi-functional approach, the demand for better connectivity increased as well. With increased connectivity, high-speed connectors and integrated system of networks, some loopholes were discovered while the SCADA systems started sharing information over the web. As a result, the SCADA systems became security liabilities.

Another reason why SCADA systems are vulnerable is because they operate mainly over open standards, which makes the information available easily to an attacker. The open standards allow the intruders to gain in-depth knowledge about how the networks operate and also about its architectural aspects.

Since a SCADA network is linked with a corporate network in may cases, it is only as secure as the corporate network’s firewall. With the adaptation of open access standards, corporate networks are falling prone to vulnerabilities.

Let us take a look at some of the common vulnerabilities in SCADA and how they appear as a threat to the present day industries

1. Availability of Public Information

A large chunk of information about a utility company network is available via the routine public queries present in the software. This can be used to garner focused attacks over the SCADA networks.

Some typical instances of this type of vulnerability can be seen here:
– Data comprising of information pertaining to a company’s structure, its employees, its emails and the network system details.
– DNS or Domain Name Service servers which comprise the IP addresses, the server names as well as the email information details for an organization.

2. Insecure Network Architectures

The architectural design of the network is critical in offering the appropriate segmentation of the organization’s corporate network, The internet and the SCADA networks. Any loopholes in the architectural design increase the risk that can cause threats in the SCADA systems.

Some of these instances are as follows:
– While configuring the web, the email server or the File Transfer Protocol, FTP, internal access to corporate networks can be provided inadvertently.
– Insecure network connections within the corporate partners, and firewall, VPS and IDS which are inconsistent with the other networks for the same organization.
– Improper internal implementation of firewall and other network access control mechanisms that leave no separation between network segments.
– Unnecessary authorization of the dial-up modem access and failure to implement corporate policies of dialling access during dial up maintenance

3. Incomplete Real time monitoring

If the real time monitoring reports are not maintained properly, then the SCADA systems may face threats.

Some of the instances include:
– Vast quantities of data collected from the security devices that overwhelm the information resources of the security utilities. This leads to monitoring attempts being rendered futile.
– Lack to recognize attacks simultaneously or organized attacks over time

Incidents caused by Improper Security Measures and SCADA Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities in the SCADA systems are causes for deep concern and must be treated with sincerity.
Following are some of the well-known attacks and intrusion attempts over SCADA systems in the industries:

1. In January 2003, the David-Besse Nuclear Power Plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio was attacked by a Microsoft SQL Server Worm called as Slammer. The worm infected a private network, disabling the safety monitoring for more than 5 hours. The incident also led to the failure of the process compute of the plant and was only made available after 6 hours. The worm also attacked the communication over the control networks of the electricity sector and propagated so fast that the whole traffic got congested.

2. In Gazprom, Russia, on April 26th, 1999, the country’s huge gas plant was targeted by the hackers. They were able to control the gas flow from the company for a short time interval. The intruders were able to surge past the security firewall of the company. They broke into the system that controlled the gas flow in the pipelines. Moreover, the central switchboard for gas flow control was under the control from external attackers for some time as well.

Preventing breaches in SCADA systems

With advances in technology, the concern for vulnerabilities in SCADA has aggravated over time. The SCADA systems are critical to national infrastructure and highly preferred for damage by notorious elements.

The vulnerabilities in the SCADA systems can be overcome with the help of new and better technologies in security and monitoring. The standards and policies must be developed and designed so as to fit individual and specific system or networks.

Also, the corporate networks must implement security management programs that cater specifically to critical infrastructure and SCADA Systems. Moreover, there is a growing need for increasing the security awareness and information sharing to implementing better and secure architectural frameworks for the existing technologies.