Cyber Security for SCADA Systems

One of the most widely utilized networks in industrial applications is a supervisory control and data acquisition network. A SCADA network watches real-time data to improve industrial processes, validate security, and log events. Businesses are highly reliant on SCADA networks, so malicious users often perceive them as an opportunity to steal vital information and hold organizations hostage. Consequently, cyber security for SCADA systems has become a major concern for businesses in recent years. By implementing the right SCADA security practices, businesses can significantly reduce their chances of experiencing a costly security breach.

What Is SCADA Security?

The term SCADA security is used broadly to explain the process of protecting a SCADA-based network from the full range of potential vulnerabilities. Security changes are implemented at both the hardware and application levels to harden the overall system against the possibility of an attack. Security for SCADA is a major area of focus because many nations and international corporations depend on SCADA to protect vital infrastructure. Natural gas pipelines, power plants, water treatment facilities, and even military bases are often dependent on SCADA technology.

The critical importance of networks that use SCADA means that extensive measures have to be taken to ensure system security. However, working with a SCADA network can also be challenging since technicians often need special licenses and clearances due to the sensitivity of the information that has to be managed. As a result, maintaining a SCADA network is a serious challenge for organizations of all sizes

Types of SCADA Vulnerabilities

The importance of SCADA means that networks using the technology have to prepare for attacks from a broad range of sophisticated adversaries. It is believed that modern warfare will be primarily conducted in the cyber realm, so SCADA networks have to be hardened against attacks from sophisticated state governments. Additionally, since information on SCADA networks can be worth billions of dollars to outside parties, security specialists have to defeat attacks against organizations with enormous resources.

Some of the main types of threats that are considered most significant in security for SCADA include:

Terrorists: If a sophisticated terrorist group manages to hack into a SCADA system, they could cause enormous damage to a nation’s economy. Power plants could be shut down, traffic lights could stop working, or air traffic control systems could be made to send false information. Terrorists can operate from any location on the planet, so they are a major area of focus in cyber security for SCADA.

Hackers: In the digital world, one individual can cause enormous damage with a sufficient amount of determination and skill. SCADA technicians have to plan for the possibility of highly sophisticated hackers working alone or in small groups to infiltrate and harm a powerful network.

Intelligence agencies: In a time of war, intelligence agencies would be the most sophisticated adversaries that SCADA systems would have to overcome. Although foreign intelligence agencies may appear to be adversaries that are too difficult to defend against, the reality is that strategies exist to substantially mitigate the damage that these adversaries could potentially cause.

Insiders: Even the most secure system is always vulnerable to attacks from trusted insiders who have full network access. Insiders sometimes have malicious intentions, but they can also make mistakes that can lead to potential threats. Therefore, security specialists working with SCADA systems usually have to go through extensive background checks and regularly have their activities scrutinized.

Challenges in SCADA System Security

Defending against the host of potential adversaries that SCADA systems face is no simple task. Security threats can emerge at any point in a network, and hackers are usually adept at knowing which areas are most vulnerable. Some of the vulnerabilities that lead to problems include:

  • Poor training that causes technicians to make costly errors.
  • Low-quality applications that contain bad code and exploitable vulnerabilities.
  • Inadequately maintained software that has not been patched for known threats.
  • Poor internal controls that prevent organizations from responsively recognizing and solving security problems as they arise.

Organizations that use SCADA systems have to implement a broad range of measures to ensure the integrity of their networks. Nevertheless, when the right measures are implemented, SCADA systems are generally the most secure option available for protecting sensitive data.