Industry is slowly waking up to the fact that its facilities are in the crosshairs, the targets of cyber attacks by bad actors trying to exploit vulnerabilities in industrial control systems (ICSs) to steal intellectual property or damage critical equipment.
Whether caused by sophisticated hacking teams assembled by nation states, cyber criminal organizations, potential competitors, disgruntled or careless employees, or just bored teenagers in their bedrooms, cyber intrusions into industrial facilities now number in the hundreds of thousands every year. Even unintentional cyber incidents can cause damage.
The result can be more dangerous than stolen credit card numbers or government personnel information, because it can cause real physical damage like a destroyed or damaged power plant, water system, chemical plant, or oil and gas facility. Attacks like these could bring a region or even an entire nation to its knees. But even smaller-scale events, such as hackers taking over control of cars on a busy interstate, or manipulating the recipe controls at a food processing plant, could wreak havoc.
In exploring this issue, one fact stands out: industrial control systems were never designed to be secure. Many have also been in place for 20 or 30 years, long before cybersecurity became an issue. It’s no wonder that retrofitting this massive installed base to overcome 21st century cyber vulnerabilities can seem like an insurmountable task.
Digital threats, physical dangers
“Everyone’s concerned about viruses and worms, but Stuxnet never killed anyone,” says Joe Weiss of Applied Control Solutions, who has amassed a database of more than 750 actual control system cyber incidents. “Compromised industrial control systems, on the other hand, have caused significant electrical outages, environmental and equipment damage, and even killed people.”
Weiss is managing director of the ISA99 committee, which helped develop the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards on industrial automation and control systems security. “IT people are focused on vulnerabilities from information loss, but it’s the impact of ICS failures on equipment, people and the environment that matters to industrial control professionals,” he says. “Not every ICS cyber vulnerability is critical. We need to focus on what can affect control system operation so that end users can prioritize threats to system reliability and safety.”
Weiss sees his role as waking industry up to the real dangers it faces from compromised control systems. “Industry is a backwater when it comes to cybersecurity,” he says. “We don’t have the systems, the training or the technologies to address it because too many people still don’t believe it’s real.”
He takes a broader view of cybersecurity than many people, citing the emissions fraud at Volkswagen, where software was intentionally manipulated to falsify test results. “Industrial control lies more and more within the digital world,” he says. “Anything that changes the intent of the control system function, whether or not it’s with malicious intent, is a cyber issue.”
The enemy is often us
Companies may think they’re safe if their manufacturing systems are not connected to the Internet, but it turns out the biggest threat comes from their own employees.
“There’s no such thing as an air gap,” says Ben Orchard, applications engineer at Opto 22, referring to control systems that aren’t connected to the Internet. “Malicious software (malware) is chiefly introduced into control systems by employees, vendors or contractors who plug devices like an infected smartphone into a computer’s USB port to charge it or bring in a corrupted thumb drive.”
Since people are the biggest weakness in any security system, Orchard recommends disabling or even filling in non-essential USB ports with epoxy. Other basics include only executing software that’s been cryptographically signed by a trusted source, locking down the operating system so that no email or web browsing is allowed, and constant monitoring of control network traffic.
If you’re looking for proven practices to improve the cybersecurity of your facilities or production systems, Orchard recommends the ones developed by the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) at the Department of Homeland Security. The guidelines address best practices like defense-in-depth, security zoning and encryption.
“They’ve done an astoundingly good job of assembling logical, practical, real-world advice,” he emphasizes. In particular, Orchard recommends downloading the first document in the series, “Improving Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity with Defense-in-Depth Strategies” (see “More Sources for Security Guidance,”).
Help is a call away
Automation suppliers are actively engaged in the cyber battle. Vendors are continually adding new levels of security to their products and providing a range of customer education and support services.
Honeywell Process Solutions has fielded a team of more than 85 experts who can provide vendor-agnostic risk analysis, perform forensics, and help customers establish security policies, says Mike Baldi, cybersecurity architect for the company. Honeywell has also created a lab in Georgia to demonstrate and validate security solutions for customers, as well as train its own engineers.
Honeywell’s industrial cybersecurity risk manager software for continuous monitoring provides real-time, continuous monitoring of threats, vulnerabilities and risks specific to a control system, providing immediate notification of weaknesses in security.
“We’ll always be chasing evildoers,” Baldi says, “so advanced analytics are crucial, not just to analyze the latest attack but to identify patterns in these attacks that can guide us to the best solutions. It’s essential that companies analyze threat risk, test solutions at installation and maintain security over the life of a system.”
Turning control security on its head
Bedrock Automation is a company that’s making waves in the world of industrial control with a revolutionary platform that integrates an inside-out, bottom-up approach to cybersecurity.
“The cybersecurity issue was the catalyst for the creation of our new control platform. It’s software-defined automation,” says Albert Rooyakkers, CTO and engineering vice president for Bedrock.
|Cybersecurity concerns were the catalyst for Bedrock Automation’s new control platform.|
The company says the Bedrock system—created by a team of engineering experts from the automation and semiconductor industries—can function as a PLC, DCS, RTU or safety system. Bedrock is using independent system integrators and high-tech distributors as its channels to the market.
“This platform unification was the big breakthrough, something the major automation suppliers have never been able to achieve,” Rooyakkers says. “The incremental security improvements they’ve been doing for years are not likely to work because there are too many gaps to patch. It’s like taking a stick to a gunfight.”
According to research firm Frost & Sullivan, which cited the company’s work with its 2015 Best Practices Award for Industrial Control System Innovation, “Bedrock Automation has designed a control system with layered and embedded cybersecurity features, starting at the transistor level using secure microcontroller technology that includes secure memory, hardware accelerators and true random number generators.”
Rooyakkers adds, “ICS security in the cyber age will require a complete rethinking of control system design. Standards and best practices are being developed, but it will take a generation at the current pace of progress to achieve the level of security industry needs today.”
Hardening hardware and software
Given that most companies can’t afford a wholesale replacement of their existing control systems, many automation vendors are focused on making incremental improvements to harden their software and hardware.
Among the latest cybersecurity introductions by Emerson Process Management for its DeltaV control platform is a suite of cybersecurity software products from Intel Security’s McAfee Labs, including traditional antivirus, centralized whitelisting of applications allowed to run, security information and event management (SIEM) to perform analytics on events on everything from firewalls to operator stations, and network monitoring to identify unusual network communications.
“We’ve been hardening the control system with every DeltaV release,” says Neil Peterson, DeltaV product marketing director. “With the addition of SIEM, for example, you now have a tool that can manage the cybersecurity health of the control system as a whole, alerting you to unusual circumstances that need to be checked out. These include unauthorized communication attempts on your firewall and failed log-on attempts.”
There’s no silver bullet for cybersecurity, says Rick Gorskie, manager of Emerson’s asset strategy and management program. “Security requires a multilayered approach that combines technology, practices and people,” he says. “That furnace meltdown at a German steel mill purportedly started when someone clicked on a phishing email infected with malware, which allowed hackers to make their way down the network to attack the blast furnace.”
Gorskie says incidents like that are why he’s received more customer questions about security in the past year than in the previous 20 years. “We’re getting more board-level interest than ever before, and they’re starting to fund some serious projects because they want to avoid shutdowns,” Peterson adds. “Security is very hard and it requires shared responsibility. We develop systems with locks, but it requires ongoing vigilance to keep them secure. You can’t set it and forget it.”
More than networks
“Security is more than a network issue,” says Clark Case, security platform leader for Rockwell Automation. “Content (intellectual property) protection, tamper detection, user authentication and access control are just as important.”
While user concerns vary by industry and customer, Case says, “machine builders who ship their equipment offshore are particularly concerned about IP protection, so we’re releasing software licensing technology so they can control access to their source code.”
Rockwell has introduced a number of products and services to help customers design, deploy and maintain more secure control systems, according to Case. The company’s FactoryTalk AssetCentre software, for example, lets users see who is making changes to the control system and what changes have been made, including which machine the changes were made on and who was logged on at the time.
“We’re also making our controllers more secure in the design and manufacturing process so that they’re resilient to standard attacks,” Case adds. In addition to fielding a security incident response team for its products, Rockwell works closely with security groups like ICS-CERT.
“Companies need to step back and take a broader look at system risks—what bad things can be done, and how best to address them,” Case says. “Companies doing the best at mitigating cybersecurity risks have people on staff who are responsible for control system security. Fortunately, there are a growing number of operations technology people with the required skillsets.”
Cybersecurity is that much more important in manufacturing. “When there’s a breach in the IT world, you can take the system down and fix it,” explains Jeff Caldwell, chief architect for cybersecurity at Belden. “But in the industrial world, you have to continue to operate when there’s a problem. You can’t have power plants shutting down or planes falling from the sky. Industry’s primary concerns are resilience, uptime and safety. Cybersecurity is just a segment of that.”
Belden promotes a safe networking architecture that includes every device connected to those networks. “Consequently, we’ve developed cybersecurity solutions for all seven layers of the ISO stack,” Caldwell says.
Key elements of this architecture include security zoning; system change management; intrusion radiation protection to identify, halt and report invalid and anomalous traffic; security sentinels at every network juncture; layer 2 deep packet inspection in front of PLCs and RTUs as well as between security zones; authentication for user and administrator access; encryption of VPN traffic information; and secure wireless.
Belden recently acquired TripWire, a company that specializes in system change management, as part of a cybersecurity product portfolio that includes Tofino layer 2 firewalls with industrial protocol deep packet inspection.
Being knowledgeable about industrial protocols is essential to any control system security solution, Caldwell says. “IT uses gigantic signature files to identify patterns that indicate security problems, but that doesn’t work in the industrial world where communications often flow over serial cables that can’t carry large files,” he says. “Let’s face it: The IT world has failed at control system security. You just can’t jam IT solutions onto control systems and make them work. Only 20 percent of industrial cyber incidents are intentional, and disgruntled employees cause half of those. Just 10 percent come from hackers. That’s why it’s critical to protect against everything.”
This is not a test
“Most manufacturers have some degree of security preparedness in place, but it’s unknown whether these steps are enough to repel a full-scale targeted assault on a facility,” cautions Richard Clark, technical marketing specialist for SCADA cybersecurity at Schneider Electric Software, which includes InduSoft and Wonderware. “It seems more likely, as has been demonstrated in several modeling and public test sessions by ICS-CERT at Idaho National Lab, that such an attack would be successful because most engineers and IT personnel would not know how to react properly to such an event.”
Manufacturers need to ask themselves what damage could be caused at their facility if a targeted attack succeeded and their production system was shut down for weeks, Clark says. “These are the type of what-if scenarios that are frequently never explored. Few security managers or engineering teams have performed a single-point failure analysis of their facility, and even fewer have ever done a formal risk assessment using the results of the analysis,” he says. “This is especially irresponsible since there are excellent tools to help them find answers to these questions and determine if they are dedicating enough resources to safeguarding their facilities from a breach or control system malfunction.”
Clark says forward-looking security engineers and IT personnel have begun using automation to assist them in preventing attacks, combining security solutions to create what is known as defense-in-depth. These layers of disparate security measures can virtually surround critical assets and infrastructure.
“Once customers make the effort to begin to understand the nature of these threats to their facilities, products and employees, the safer and more operationally efficient they will become,” he says.
More Sources for Security Guidance
ICS-CERT Guidelines >>https://ics-cert.us-cert.gov/Recommended-Practices
Belden Security Blogs >>http://www.belden.com/blog/industrialsecurity/index.cfm
Schneider Electric/InduSoft Security eBooks >>https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/509999
NIST Cybersecurity Framework Gap Analysis Tool >>https://www.us-cert.gov/forms/csetiso
PBS Nova Program on Cybersecurity >>http://video.pbs.org/video/2365582515/
ISA 99/ISA/IEC 62443 Guidelines >>http://isa99.isa.org/ISA99%20Wiki/Home.aspx