Security

Common industrial security myths Plant operations managers need to recognize that although they may feel isolated from security threats, in reality they are not. Three common myths must be debunked: Many plants—including chemical and petrochemical, refinery, pharmaceutical, and pulp and paper operations—have been identified as potential targets.

By Control Engineering Staff November 1, 2007

Common industrial security myths

Plant operations managers need to recognize that although they may feel isolated from security threats, in reality they are not. Three common myths must be debunked:

  1. “Nothing has changed; systems are safe.” Wrong! The number of reported incidents has risen dramatically since 2001. Most problems originate outside the plant.

  2. “We don’t connect to the Internet so our systems are not affected.” Although many process control systems are not connected to the Internet directly, most are linked to the company IT system, which is. In addition, laptops, which are especially vulnerable to infection, are frequently connected to the process control network.

  3. “Hackers don’t understand and aren’t interested in SCADA/PLC/DCS systems.” Yet in 2005, Control Engineering reported a demonstration by the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security, working through Idaho National Labs (INL). In the demo, a hacker entered a live process and generated false values at the HMI and actuated devices without generating an alarm.

Many plants—including chemical and petrochemical, refinery, pharmaceutical, and pulp and paper operations—have been identified as potential targets. Hacking does not always require SCADA or DCS knowledge. Often it can be done with a few mouse clicks. Beyond hacking as a hobby, security attacks and breaches are becoming, in the opinion of some, a lucrative pursuit.

The need for “defense in depth”

Taking steps to secure existing process control systems is admittedly a complex, time-consuming exercise. Security issues are not just the purview of corporate IT departments. Nor will security concepts taken from the IT world automatically help manufacturers secure the plant environment and reach production goals. The philosophies are different. IT seeks to make information accessible, albeit securely, to all who need it. In the IT world service interruptions are tolerated. Not so in the process automation world, where interruptions can mean a loss of production. Here, the key is maximizing uptime and system availability. Corporate IT may offer proven security methodologies, but the process automation operation must tailor those methods to process requirements by developing its own security vision.

Failure to implement cyber security practices directly affects the bottom line. It is a task you cannot afford to overlook, but help is available. Automation suppliers can provide a variety of assistance, from components to guidance and consulting to a full-systems approach. For example, the PCS 7 Security Concept from Siemens offers a holistic, comprehensive approach that takes into account specific process control needs and bundles key security measures into a hierarchy to provide “defense in depth.”

Although any security strategy must be custom designed for the organization it is intended to protect, some basics apply. We’ve assembled some fundamental concepts here—along with references to informational and educational material—that we believe can be applied to every plant security policy, and which can help you get started on the road to cyber protection for process control.