What Is SCADA Security, and Why Do You Need to Implement It?

Image of a lock with a network connections inside it.
Cybersecurity is crucial, especially for SCADA networks.
Source: Pixabay

Technology and networking have permeated all facets of life, including industries and factories. The widespread adoption of digital technologies across manufacturing and industrial production has greatly increased process productivity and efficiency. One of these technologies is a control system called supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA). Many industries use SCADA networks in their critical infrastructure, and as a result, you must secure these networks. Proper implementation of SCADA security can have significant impacts on organizations and countries.

In this article, I’ll explain what SCADA security is and how it compares to traditional security. I’ll also touch on several real-world examples of SCADA security threats. Toward the end of the article, I’ll take you through SCADA framework controls, security policies, and best practices for implementing SCADA security.

Before we jump into SCADA security, however, let’s understand what SCADA networks are in the first place.

What Are SCADA Networks?

SCADA networks combine hardware and software elements that allow you to improve efficiency and take a more data-driven approach when it comes to decision-making. Essentially, SCADA networks enable you to:

  • Gather and process real-time data
  • Control industrial processes locally and remotely
  • Use a Human Machine Interface (HMI) to interact with different devices such as sensors, pumps, etc.
  • Record events and data for further analysis

SCADA networks achieve these functionalities through two microcomputers: programmable logic computers (PLCs) and remote terminal units (RTUs). Both of these microcomputers interact with other devices in the network and gather information from those devices. The network then sends this information to SCADA software for further processing and display. In turn, employees will use the processed information to make data-driven decisions.

With this background, let’s discuss SCADA security in more detail.

What Is SCADA Security?

SCADA security refers to tools and practices used to protect SCADA networks. As mentioned, many critical infrastructures and industries, such as electricity and water, use SCADA networks. Thus, protecting them can be a matter of national importance.

SCADA security tools continuously scan SCADA networks to identify vulnerabilities and report them. You can use this information to quickly remedy the vulnerabilities before any threat comes your way. The nature of threats and vulnerabilities vary based on how you implemented your underlying SCADA network.

Now, you may wonder how SCADA security is different from traditional security. Let’s take a look.

SCADA Security vs Traditional Security

Before the emergence of SCADA security, employees monitored SCADA networks manually. Undoubtedly, this form of monitoring was inefficient and prone to errors, as it couldn’t detect many vulnerabilities. Furthermore, you couldn’t gather many data points using traditional security, so decision-making wasn’t data-driven.

The many technological advancements in human-machine interactions and wide area networks (WANs) led to the rapid adoption of SCADA security. However, the downside is that SCADA security became vulnerable to cyberattacks due to the inherent security issues in WANs and IP protocols.

Here’s a table that showcases the differences between SCADA security and traditional security across several features.

FeatureSCADA SecurityTraditional Security
Efficiency in Identifying Threats and VulnerabilitiesHighLow
CommunicationFastSlow, as people had to convey the cause of issues over telephones
SecurityModerateHigh
Data-Driven Decision-Making CapabilitiesYesNo
Use of TechnologyYesHighly limited
AutomationYesNo
SCADA security vs traditional security

To better understand the impact of SCADA security, let’s look at 3 real-world examples of SCADA network threats and attacks.

3 Real-World Examples of SCADA Security Threats and Vulnerabilities

SCADA networks are often prime targets for cyberattacks because they’re the lifeline of many organizations and countries. Imagine what could happen if your electricity grid went down due to an attack. You could lose power for hours, for example. And this would give cyberattackers a high level of bargaining power against national governments.

Here are some specific real-world examples that can help you better understand why a SCADA security system is essential for your business.

Image showing a computer with the words "virus detected" displayed on the monitor
Cyberattackers are always looking for a way to cause you problems.
Source: kalhh on Pixabay

1. Stuxnet

Stuxnet is one of the most well-known malware that infected Iran’s control systems of nuclear power centrifuges in 2010. What made it so dangerous was that it could self-replicate and spread across systems quickly. Essentially, Stuxnet sabotaged the code on the SCADA network’s PLCs. As a result, the network displayed the wrong information through the HMI.

2. Duqu, Flame, and Gauss

Duqu, Flame, and Gauss were three different malware types that worked together to steal critical information from SCADA networks. Flame used advanced cryptography to impersonate itself as a legitimate proxy for the Windows Update Service (WUS). After gaining access, it allowed Duqu to collect sensitive information. Gauss then encrypted the information and sent it back to the target system. 

3. Shamoon

Shamoon is a piece of code that overwrote code on 30,000 systems of Aramco, the largest energy company in the world. This malware stole data from these systems and made them display images of a burning American flag.

The list can go on, but all these attacks clearly show the vulnerabilities of SCADA networks and the wide-reaching impact of an attack on these systems. Moreover, these examples show why SCADA security is important to prevent the accompanying consequences.

In short, SCADA security depends on the implementation of the SCADA network. That said, the SCADA framework has controls and policies that you have to manage to protect these networks. Let’s take a look at the controls first.

6 SCADA Security Controls

You can divide the SCADA framework controls into several categories. Using these controls, you can effectively deal with any security vulnerabilities in your SCADA network. Let’s go over each of the 6 controls in further detail, starting with administrative controls.

1. Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are broad-based controls that provide visibility at the top level. These controls include standards, policies, and exceptions that assess the ongoing risks and compliance of SCADA networks. They also encompass comprehensive employee training to reduce cyberattacks such as phishing and whaling attacks.

2. Vulnerability Management Controls

Vulnerability management controls identify and strive to fix vulnerabilities before they impact a SCADA network. These controls encompass physical security, identity and access management (IAM), and asset management.

3. Application and Data Security Controls

Application and data security controls encompass code changes, application integrations, and change management. They also handle the security of the applications implemented in SCADA networks. Furthermore, these controls include ones that secure the data stored in databases and other repositories.

4. System Resilience Controls

System resilience controls are the security configurations used by applications and hardware components in the SCADA network. Disaster recovery and planning also comes under this category.

5. Monitoring Controls

Monitoring controls are responsible for continuously monitoring the SCADA networks to identify threats and vulnerabilities. These controls also include ones related to forensics and incident management.

6. External Controls

As the name suggests, external controls apply to third-party vendors and partners to ensure that their actions and systems don’t negatively impact the SCADA networks. This control category also encompasses system assurance measures.

Along with the above controls, you’ll also need to apply the appropriate policies to build robust and sustainable SCADA security.

Image of a control center
SCADA security relies on various controls, so don’t neglect them!
Source: Pexels on Pixabay

SCADA Security Policies

Specific security policies ensure an unambiguous implementation of the above-mentioned controls. These policies must cover all aspects of working and access to the SCADA networks. More importantly, you must have security plans and a clear set of instructions for their implementation. It also helps to assign specific employees/roles to each task for better accountability. 

Every security policy you create must have a specific purpose, such as ensuring business continuity, streamlining access, reporting vulnerabilities, etc. Additionally, each policy must outline the steps an employee must take to achieve its purpose. These include things an employee can and can’t do, their responsibilities, consequences of non-adherence, and so on. Essentially, these policies will be the single source of truth that anyone in your organization can refer to in case of doubt.

Lastly, let’s look at some SCADA security best practices. 

SCADA Security Best Practices

To boost the overall security of your SCADA network, consider implementing the below best practices. Note that these are all weighted equally.

  • Map all connections to the SCADA network and periodically evaluate the risk and necessity of each connection
  • Disconnect unwanted connections, services, integrations, and applications in your SCADA network to reduce the chances of a cyberattack occurring
  • Choose public IP protocols over proprietary protocols to avoid insider attacks
  • Leverage the security mechanisms of individual components and devices
  • Implement round-the-clock monitoring and use internal and external intrusion detection systems to prevent unauthorized access
  • Audit and evaluate the physical security and remote access of your SCADA networks periodically
  • Have an incident management team in place to mitigate risks and contain the spread of attacks 
  • Establish backup, disaster recovery, and configuration management plans
  • Conduct periodic training for your employees

These best practices can significantly lower the chances of an attack on your SCADA network. If you effectively implement the above-mentioned controls, policies, and best practices, you’ll have an ultimately secure SCADA network.

Final Words

SCADA networks are used in industrial and manufacturing infrastructure. In essence, these networks improve efficiency and enable a data-driven approach to decision-making. However, these networks are subject to breaches and cyberattacks. As a result, SCADA security is essential. 

Implementing SCADA security isn’t easy, as its implementation differs across industries. You must ensure you follow SCADA security controls to effectively deal with any security vulnerabilities in your network.

You should also follow SCADA security policies. Each security policy you create must have a specific purpose, such as ensuring business continuity, streamlining access, reporting vulnerabilities, etc.

Lastly, follow SCADA’s best practices, like establishing a disaster recovery plan and conducting periodic training for your employees. These best practices will boost the overall security of your SCADA network.

Do you have more questions about SCADA security? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

Can I secure my SCADA network?

Yes, you can secure your SCADA network from cyberattacks and unauthorized intrusion. SCADA security provides the framework, controls, policies, and best practices you need. Thus, make sure to implement these aspects relevant to your specific SCADA network.

What are some SCADA network vulnerabilities?

SCADA networks are vulnerable to cyberattacks as they use WANs and IP protocols for communication. Furthermore, you also have to worry about insider attacks, given the sensitive nature of industries that implement SCADA networks. To lower these risks, consider implementing SCADA security in your company.

Can SCADA security mitigate risk?

Yes, SCADA security can mitigate risks to your SCADA networks. It continuously monitors the network for vulnerabilities and security gaps and informs the concerned individuals. It also provides contextual information for fixing these vulnerabilities. More importantly, SCADA security also encompasses incident management and disaster recovery. 

Who uses SCADA security?

Any organization that uses a SCADA network needs security. Many critical industries and infrastructures, such as electricity and gas distribution, implement SCADA networks. As an attack on these networks can have wide-reaching implications, they’re optimal targets for cybercriminals and terrorists.

What are the main components of SCADA security?

SCADA security depends on how you implement your SCADA network. Broadly speaking, SCADA security encompasses several controls and security policies. Essentially, the controls are elements within your policy, such as IAM, while the policies determine the behavior of the controls.

Resources

TechGenix: Newsletters

Subscribe to our newsletters for more quality content.

TechGenix: Article on ICS Security

Find out more about the Purdue Model and ICS security.

TechGenix: Article on Cybersecurity Predictions for 2022

Learn about the cybersecurity trends and predictions for 2022.

TechGenix: Article on Infrastructure Cyberattacks

Educate yourself further on infrastructure cyberattacks.

TechGenix: Article on the Top Cybercrime Cases in 2022

Discover the top cybercrime cases in 2022.

TechGenix: Article on Honeypot Cybersecurity 

Discover how to implement honeypot cybersecurity to gather intelligence and protect your critical assets.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Scroll to Top