Taking steps to secure your process control system

Are you serious about cyber security? Have you taken measures at your facility to protect your process from deliberate—or even inadvertent—damage or harm? If not, why not? Greenfield installations today have the luxury of designing and building protection directly into their infrastructures and systems.


Are you serious about cyber security? Have you taken measures at your facility to protect your process from deliberate—or even inadvertent—damage or harm? If not, why not? Greenfield installations today have the luxury of designing and building protection directly into their infrastructures and systems. Existing brownfield operations, however, are another story. Many companies have taken no action, thinking such modifications for legacy systems are too difficult to implement…or too costly…or even unnecessary. If you are one of them, think again.

Security is a real threat

Although the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought the concept of sabotage into focus, it is not new. For years companies have sought ways to protect secrets from competitors. Nonetheless, at no other time have operations been more at risk on so many fronts. Examples abound.

  • A U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) experiment (“Aurora generator test”) publicized in September 2007 revealed the vulnerability of the U.S. power industry. A video made by DHS demonstrated the destruction hackers could create by causing an industrial turbine to spin out of control.

  • A disgruntled Australian worker accessed his company’s computers remotely and released sewage sludge into surrounding rivers.

  • A virus (SQL Slammer worm) led to flight cancellations, bank ATM failures, downed utility SCADA networks, and compromised control systems. Analysis of the event revealed that the virus had several infiltration paths into the systems it impacted, including a contractor’s T1 line, a VPN (to a SCADA system), a laptop (into a petroleum control system), and through a dial-up modem (into an HMI).

  • A hacker planted malicious software at a Pennsylvania water filtration plant.

  • The process computer and safety parameter display systems at a nuclear power facility (Davis-Besse plant near Toledo, Ohio) were affected by the Slammer worm, which bypassed firewall security. Although the facility was not operating, the activity of the virus showed security issues when plant and business networks are interconnected.

Security, obviously, is a serious matter. The U.S. government sees cyber security breaches as a significant threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure. As a result, new regulations and guidelines have been created for the chemical industry (Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism standard, 6 CFR Part 27, which took effect June 8, 2007) and for electric utilities [Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) Cyber Security standards released in fall 2006 by the North American Electric Reliability Corp.]. Those who fail to follow these new guidelines risk significant fines or even a shutdown. Additional standards and best practices governing other industries can be expected to follow.

Systems are more vulnerable today

Technologically systems today are more vulnerable for a number of reasons:

  • Systems are more complex and more elaborate.

  • The move from closed to open communication and networking systems such as Ethernet and Microsoft Windows, along with near ubiquitous use of software to monitor and control the manufacturing process leaves systems exposed to a variety of threats, both inside and outside the plant.

  • Process automation systems have long life spans. Many in place today were installed more than 20 years ago. They have been upgraded and modified, but are often unprepared to handle the threats of modern technology.

  • Current process automation systems are commonly linked to higher level business systems. This enhanced connectivity helps manage and optimize production, raw materials use, and other functions, but also makes automation systems more vulnerable to outside threats.

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