Video: Cyber security students, class of 2012
Control Engineering visited DePaul University College of Computing and Digital Media in Chicago again in June to meet a new class of industrial cyber security students. Professor Matt Luallen has been rethinking his strategy for the class, pushing his students to get a better handle on how a device like a PLC fits into an application rather than simply trying to figure out ways to break in.
Students in the class had a group project as well as an individual assignment, and had to present a report on each. There were four groups, each with four students, that had to create a system to perform one of the following functions: Control a model train, including moving the locomotive and operating turnouts; control a simulated gas pipeline, including running a compressor and maintaining system pressure; design a traffic signal system for an intersection; and control a miniature robotic arm. In all the cases, the students were simply given a PLC along with the necessary support equipment. The assignment asked them to figure out how to make the system perform a prescribed list of functions, including programming the PLC.
This might not sound like much, but these are students with no industrial background. Starting from scratch figuring out how the I/O works and how to build a program is nothing to sneeze at. Once they got their respective systems working, they then had to figure out how to break them, or how a hacker might plot an attack. Some of the solutions the students create are better than others. For example, all of the projects required integration of a manual e-stop. The pipeline group included that function as part of the PLC program, which meant that if a hacker could break the program, the e-stop no longer worked. One of the topics of discussion was why that wasn’t a good idea and how that kind of problem could be avoided.
The students speak for themselves in the video. You’ll hear things that they learned in their individual and group projects. Keep in mind that these are resourceful IT students, not people with industrial experience. It’s amazing what they can find out about the kind of equipment in your plant.
Peter Welander, email@example.com