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Security: How IT and Industrial Control Differ

When your “nail” is computer system security, the “hammer” is often commercial IT security measures.

And though a good dose of IT security is essential to industrial control system security, successfully securing a control system requires additional steps.

A recent release from Tofino Security highlighted the unique aspects of industrial control systems that set their security measures apart from most IT systems. Some of these factors included control systems placement on the plant floor, rather than a climate controlled data center; their potential for placement in or close to hazardous environments; plus the fact that the average life span of equipment on the plant floor is measured in decades rather than a few years.

Referencing information from a Belden Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure Design Seminar, the Tofino release boiled down the differences between IT and ICS (industrial control system) security solutions to the fact that each system has different:
• Performance requirements;
• Reliability requirements;
• Operating systems and applications;
• Risk management goals;
• Security architectures; and
• Security goals.

Security goals are an essential difference between the two.  For example, the number one goal of IT security is focused on privacy, i.e., protecting the data; whereas the number one goal of ICS security is based on safety, i.e., protecting the process. Three major categories of ICS security issues are outlined in the seminar. Those issues are:

Soft targets. According to Belden, control networks are full of what are known as  “soft” targets—devices vulnerable to disruption through their network interface.

Multiple pathways. These pathways often bypass existing security measures in the plant, and some don’t even appear on a network diagram.

Flat networks. Many ICS networks are still implemented as large, “flat” networks with no isolation between unrelated subsystems.

>> David Greenfield,, is Media and Events Director for Automation World. 

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