Understanding SCADA network threats

One of the growing concerns for the governments and organizations across the globe is the increase in cyber attacks on critical infrastructural setups. Power generation systems, metropolitan traffic control facilities, water and wastewater treatment plants and factories have become the targets of hackers, having been hit with an array of data thefts, denial-of-services besides other network breaches. Vulnerabilities in these systems range from fundamental issues which comprise of systems not having passwords or weak passwords to more complex issues such as bugs in the software and configuration glitches. Attacks on these systems hamper service uptime, compliance, interfere with data integrity and even jeopardize public safety. To prevent such actions, it is imperative to chalk out security measures for prevention of intrusion and security breaches inside the SCADA networks.

Understanding the SCADA systems

Modern urban infrastructural facilities rely completely on the mechanical, hydraulic, electrical and IT & Communication Equipment. These are controlled by dedicated computer systems, which are fed information from this equipment by sensors. These systems are connected to management devices, forming networks which leverage SCADA and ICS solutions. Together, these systems allow for efficient data collection and analysis and also help in automation of equipment such as valves, pumps and relays.

There are multifarious benefits of these systems. Their stability and ruggedness allow for supporting these critical infrastructural facilities for long time periods. These devices were designed for providing control and manageability with the utmost reliability. However, these systems do not feature mechanisms which avoid unauthorized access and prevention from other eminent threats. Since the information from these systems is shared over the world wide net, this makes the vulnerable to targeted attacks and security breaches by notorious elements.

Vulnerabilities in the SCADA systems

This is a common belief that since the SCADA systems are physically separated from the corporate IT networks, they are safe virtual as well. However, these systems are connected with the same LAN and WAN networks the offices use, which does not take into account the particular difficulties which make SCADA systems different than regular IT services. Not having prior information about such challenges can cause a variety of issues which can lead to information stealing, mishandling of resources and even creating threats to public safety.

Some of the tactics to cause security breaches include:

a. Using remote access port of the vendor for maintenance to introduce abnormalities.

b. Hacking legitimate network channel between IT systems and SCADA systems

c. Convincing a user to click on a URL within emails which can lead to the introduction of a virus to the connected SCADA and ICS networks.

d. Infecting removable media which in turn infect the SCADA and ICS systems when connected with.

e. Gaining advantage of configuration bugs in the security devices

Once inside the system, it is possible for the hacker to send malicious commands which halt or crash the system and interfere with the critical processes controlled by them.

Securing the SCADA networks

The security levels must grow from a collection of disparate technologies to efficient business processes to achieve the desired protection level. Effective security strategies must be put in place to detect abnormal behavior in devices and networks for preventing attacks while providing the organization with meaningful forensic analysis to make better predictions.

 

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