Almost all of today’s modern conveniences, such as electricity, transportation, water systems, and manufactured products, are managed by industrial control systems (ICS). Many of these systems are considered to be critical infrastructure and operate as the backbone of a nation’s economy, security and health. An attack on these systems and networks has the potential to shut down an entire region or country’s power grid and disrupt utilities and critical systems and production lines, which could lead to mass chaos and irreparable damage.
Protecting critical infrastructure is imperative as once a cybercriminal gains access to a control system, damage is inevitable. The result of an ICS breach could be devastating. In order to protect critical infrastructure, security needs to become a top priority. The best security strategy for these systems is a multi-layered solution that includes deploying strong perimeter security, selecting platforms to accommodate security characteristics and to protect and monitor the protocols uses in industrial control systems.
Pipelines, heating and cooling systems, electricity, etc. are monitored and remotely controlled by Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition protocol, also known as SCADA. Both ICS and SCADA systems enable efficient collection and analysis of data and help automate control of equipment such as pumps, valves and relays. SCADA and ICS networks and devices were designed to provide manageability and control with maximum reliability, but they were not designed with security in mind. On top of that, they do not feature the proper mechanisms to prevent unauthorized access or to cope with the evolving security threats originating from external or internal networks that have become so common in the IT world.
A key component of a multi-layered defense for SCADA devices should include threat intelligence to both share and gather data, in near real-time, on new and emerging threats to critical infrastructure. By using this data to their benefit, organizations will be able to defend their networks against cyber threats before they enter the network. Additional layers should be implemented including firewall, intrusion prevention, anti-virus and sandboxing techniques. In addition, an effective security strategy must detect abnormal behavior and prevent attacks while providing the organization with meaningful forensics to investigate breaches when they occur. This will enable SCADA devices to be better protected and less vulnerable to attack.
Attacks against SCADA systems have increased in recent years and this is a trend that is only going to get worse. Hackers are getting smarter and ever more interested in attacking critical infrastructures and, because of well-known vulnerabilities, SCADA networks are at risk. Therefore it is essential that strategies and systems are implemented to protect both the network and the services they control to protect not only organizations but the public as a whole.