The Need for Gigabit Cybersecurity

Feb. 6, 2014
Much of the discussion around gigabit network speeds has focused on high-speed motion control applications. But have you considered the need for gigabit speeds to secure your industrial control systems?

Though it’s been making steady inroads into the industrial sector for more than a decade—and many now consider it the de facto industrial network protocol—many questions still remain about industrial Ethernet. One of those questions has been about the need for gigabit Ethernet.

For the sake of clarification, gigabit Ethernet refers to the transmission of Ethernet frames at the rate of a gigabit per second (1,000,000,000 bits per second), as defined by the IEEE 802.3-2008 standard. This is an extension of the more standard 10/100 Ethernet data rate commonly used by home and office Ethernet networks. The 10/100 identifier refers to 10 megabits per second (Mbps) and 100 Mbps speeds. Newer devices tend to support the 100 Mbps speeds but also support the 10 Mbps speed, thus the common reference to 10/100 Ethernet.

The general consensus around gigabit Ethernet has been that it’s most suitable for high-speed motion control applications or in facilities where a large amount of video traffic is managed (primarily for physical security purposes).
A new white paper from Moxa contends that many industrial control system (ICS) requirements, which are unique from office network requirements, support the use of gigabit Ethernet. Following are two facts Moxa identifies that help support the need for gigabit Ethernet use in ICS use:

  • ICS networks place greater emphasis on system availability. The Moxa white paper states: “… because ICS networks are used to manage and synchronize physical operations, such as production or assembly lines in a factory, any delays in transmitting data to mission-critical controllers can result in huge financial losses, or even endanger human life.”
  • ICS networks face a different set of threats. According to the Moxa white paper, “Both IT and ICS networks must defend against intentional hacker attacks as well as worms or viruses introduced unintentionally by authorized users. However, ICS networks have the added complication that in addition to managing security issues from personnel, they must also focus on the machines themselves. For example, out-of-order machines may produce unexpected broadcast storms of Ethernet packets that disrupt the operation of other machines. In addition, both industrial PCs infected with viruses as well as devices that are not working properly can easily compromise the performance of an ICS network, and in this way affect availability.”

The ultimate point of Moxa’s white paper is that modern ICS systems increasingly require more bandwidth to “support the sophisticated applications they run, such as video.” Plus, some DCS networks require gigabit-based networks for efficient communication. Due to these not uncommon ICS demands, Moxa says that to maintain network availability, “a zone conduit must provide the service required, all while acting as a firewall and filtering inappropriate data without compromising performance.”

Bottom line: Much like standard office Ethernet physical devices and protocols are not suitable for ICS applications, the same case can be made against standard Ethernet speeds.

To learn more about this, download the full white paper from Moxa’s site.

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