Cyber Security Lessons from Electric Utilities Industry

Global economic commerce has become almost wholly dependent upon constant, reliable availability of electricity. This is nowhere more true than in the interconnected Internet world, which drives global commerce and has become deeply enmeshed in modern society. Paradoxically, the capabilities of an interconnected world have created a great vulnerability point in ensuring uninterrupted flow of el...

08/01/2009


Sidebars:
Keep up to date on NERC CIP-004-1, R1 security issues

Global economic commerce has become almost wholly dependent upon constant, reliable availability of electricity. This is nowhere more true than in the interconnected Internet world, which drives global commerce and has become deeply enmeshed in modern society. Paradoxically, the capabilities of an interconnected world have created a great vulnerability point in ensuring uninterrupted flow of electric power, and have raised

Protecting legacy process control systems, in Archives or July 2009 at www.controleng.com . Also:
www.digitalbond.com
www.dyonyx.com
www.emersonprocess.com
www.encari.com
www.garrettcom.com/rossbow.htm
www.industrialdefender.com
www.logrhythm.com
www.lumension.com
www.schneider-electric.com

security of the utility industry’s critical assets to a level of paramount concern. Assets that have a dialup or IP connection—including SCADA, HMI, and other control systems—became subject to new rules this year that aim to lessen the threat.

As of June 30, 2009, all high voltage electric transmission and distribution (T&D) operators in the bulk electric system have to be in compliance with regulations specified by version 2 of the North American Electric Reliability Council’s Cyber Security Standard (NERC CIP). And they must begin collecting and logging data to become auditably compliant by July 1, 2010. The power generation owner and operator deadlines follow these dates by six months. This is a major milestone in moving toward securing critical cyber assets (CCAs) in the electric utility infrastructure of North America. It also offers lessons for other industries.

‘Each responsible entity has to start with having a good cyber policy in place. Outside of IT, this hasn’t existed before.’ —Roger Pan, Emerson Process Management

In general, the NERC CIP regulations have tasked operators to: comprehensively identify CCAs; develop security management controls; have personnel training in place; have detection and prevention measures in force; and have response plan, and notification and recovery procedures spelled out.

There is considerable room for interpretation, and hard clarity awaits evolving versions of the standard and the cold reality of audit assessments by Regional Reliability Councils, which include fines for non-compliance as high as $1 million a day for each infraction. There is little question, however, that the impact on SCADA, HMIs, and other facility control systems will be profound.

“Anyone in charge of a SCADA system needs to step back and ask themselves what would happen if someone did get into their system,” says Eric Knight, senior knowledge engineer for LogRhythm, which offers a software solution for mandated logging activities.

“And operators need to understand that there is more to protection than just technology,” says Walter Sikora, vice president of Industrial Defender, a provider of cyber protection solutions. “There are a lot of human factors involved. The NERC CIP regulations effectively touch all elements of the organization—from

‘Operators need to understand that there is a lot more to protection than just technology.’ —Walter Sikora, Industrial Defender

‘Operators need to understand that there is a lot more to protection than just technology.’ —Walter Sikora, Industrial Defender

operations to HR, maintenance, procurement and legal. You need to understand that compliance is not an end point—but an ongoing process.”

The potential consequence of breached control system security is dire. Says Ron Blume, vice president of Dyonyx, a Houston-based infrastructure consultancy: “If someone could get into an electric utility provider’s control system, they could take down the grid.”

In addition to a strong physical security perimeter (such as a locked control room) and electronic security perimeter (such as firewall, malware/virus detection/prevention), operators must have documented security management control policies and procedures in place; and a robust means of securing, monitoring, and controlling access to CCAs.

“Each responsible entity has to start with having a good cyber policy in place. Outside of IT, this hasn’t existed before,” says Roger Pan, Ovation Security Program manager for Emerson Process Management. “It can be viewed as a pain in the neck, but it’s just good business.”

It all comes down to mitigating or eliminating the threat envelop. “The risk equation is a factor of threat times the probability of attack,” says Blume. “You have to assume you’ll be attacked. If you don’t have a firewall, the risk is high. But with multi-layered defense, and having a DMZ [a demilitarized zone, also known as a data management zone], although your threat might be high, the probability is low.”

You can also reduce “the threat envelop by reducing what you’ve exposed to the network,” says Paul Henry, security and forensic analyst for Lumension, an endpoint security company . “If you have ports open that aren’t needed, you’ve increased your risk.” Almost all servers that run SCADA today have USB ports, and flash drives have become ubiquitous. “So there has to be a strong policy about what devices get plugged into [servers],” says Henry.

NERC CIP Reliability Standard CIP-005 requires that all critical cyber assets, including SCADA, reside within an electronic security perimeter (ESP). Access to the ESP is securely controlled and monitored. Source: Industrial Defender

NERC CIP Reliability Standard CIP-005 requires that all critical cyber assets, including SCADA, reside within an electronic security perimeter (ESP). Access to the ESP is securely controlled and monitored. Source: Industrial Defender

 

Access has to be tightly monitored, authenticated and controlled. “In the past, authentication was based solely on the belief you had a trusted operator,” says Matt Luallen, cofounder of Encari, a cyber security consultancy. “And if you received a communication on the network to execute a procedure, you trusted it came from a reliable source.”

Windows provides a certain level of access control, but you need to look beyond simple Windows-based password control. “You have to decide how granular you want to be, based on the makeup and structure of the organization,” says Todd Davis, business development manager for Schneider Electric. “If you have multiple operators in a control room, each with differing levels of authorization, do you want to control it at the workstation level, or screen by screen—or even more granularly, at the object level within each screen in the HMI. Most SCADA systems enable a combination of these, but the system administrator needs to put them in place.”

Additionally, administrators may want to add three-point authentication, which might include a password, some personal information known only to the individual, and perhaps some form of biometrics—which can be added for about $100, Davis says.

Henry of Lumension also encourages that policies enforce a “rule of least privilege. Simply stated, any users on the system should be granted minimum authorization required for them to get their job done.” Access authorization, however, also must consider maintenance, engineering service, and vendor support technicians. All should be identified by name rather than job class, and HR has to be involved with certifying that they all have met training policy requirements and have proper background checks.

System maintenance, patch management and configuration changes are also areas of security concern with regards to SCADA and HMIs. Many substation devices were never really meant to be connected and have no real TCP/IP error checking capabilities, such that it’s possible for someone running a system scan to cause the network to crash. Pre- and post-patch and -configuration tests are also warranted to maintain security and meet compliance requirements.

Though the standards are not as definitive for what constitutes compliance, Dale Peterson, president of Digital Bond, a control system security research and consulting practice, says clarity will come in time. “It’s like Sarbanes-Oxley—it took time for clarity. It’s important, however, that you’ve acted in good faith and can defend the decisions you’ve made.”

John Shaw, executive vice president of GarrettCom, an industrial networks product company, reduces NERC CIP to a core set of practices. “Identify all critical cyber assets that could affect operations. Then identify who needs to be able to reach them. Get rid of all unnecessary open ports. Keep track of who has authorization. Log and keep track of records of everything.”

“Compliance is determined by looking at records you keep about security decisions,” Shaw adds. “and by the overall state of network security. In theory, you can be fined up to a million dollars a day if you’re not in compliance. That’s enough money to get the attention of any company.”

www.controleng.com

 


 


Author Information

Frank O Smith is a contributing writer to Control Engineering North America.


Keep up to date on NERC CIP-004-1, R1 security issues

Control Engineering ’s Industrial Cyber Security blog provides regular updates and advice to help DCS/SCADA systems engineers be aware of security vulnerabilities and ways to respond. Bloggers Matt Luallen and Steve Hamburg, through their NERC CIP compliance consulting firm Encari, are also providing specific NERC CIP-004-1, R1 materials that can help with compliance.

Encari is providing quarterly security awareness Webinars focusing on challenges commonly encountered at electric power market organizations. The first, held in July, addressed both security best practices and recent incidents and regulatory developments. Also, beginning in August, Encari will email bi-monthly security awareness bulletins that can be distributed to employees, contractors, and peers. Topics addressed will include proven information on security best practices, and recent incidents and regulatory updates.

“The first requirement of the NERC CIP Reliability Standard CIP-004-1 succinctly states: Your organization needs to 'document, implement, and maintain a security awareness program to ensure personnel having authorized cyber or authorized unescorted physical access receive on-going reinforcement in sound security practices,’” says Luallen. “These no-cost materials cover two of the most critical elements of required security awareness programs.”

Send an email to awareness@encari.com to sign up, or visit the blog at www.controleng.com to find out more.



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
Control Engineering Leaders Under 40 identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn more about methods used to ensure that the integration between the safety system and the process control...
Adding industrial toughness and reliability to Ethernet eGuide
Technological advances like multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) transmitting and receiving
Virtualization advice: 4 ways splitting servers can help manufacturing; Efficient motion controls; Fill the brain drain; Learn from the HART Plant of the Year
Two sides to process safety: Combining human and technical factors in your program; Preparing HMI graphics for migrations; Mechatronics and safety; Engineers' Choice Awards
Detecting security breaches: Forensic invenstigations depend on knowing your networks inside and out; Wireless workers; Opening robotic control; Product exclusive: Robust encoders
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
News and comments from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
Anthony Baker is a fictitious aggregation of experts from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration.
Integrator Guide

Integrator Guide

Search the online Automation Integrator Guide
 

Create New Listing

Visit the System Integrators page to view past winners of Control Engineering's System Integrator of the Year Award and learn how to enter the competition. You will also find more information on system integrators and Control System Integrators Association.

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.