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Protecting your facility's control systems Part one

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article image The vulnerability of industrial systems is becoming more well known.
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As facilities become automated, and processes controlled, managers are becoming increasingly concerned about protecting their control systems from intrusion - inside and out.

The effect of the Stuxnet worm in 2010, and its ability to wreak havoc on industrial systems, captured the industry's attention.

With security challenges rising, site managers will have to look to a number of different tools to ensure they have protection.

To start addressing security challenges, organisations will benefit by implementing a security feedback loop that operates on the following premise: Threats intending to exploit vulnerabilities require counter-measures to minimise risk to assets.

That's the Threat/Risk Assessment portion of the loop.   

One of the logical first steps in determining the exposure of a control systems environment is a Risk Assessment, providing a summary of risk areas and actionable recommendations to either remove or neutralise the risk.  

And as technology advancements are introduced into the control systems environment, we're seeing requirements for increased vigilance and the application of best practices and techniques that will continue to offer increased peace of mind.  

Four areas that will play a significant role in security improvement over the next five years: whitelisting, encryption, incident detection and response, and increased usage of remote security operations centres. 
 
Whitelisting 
We see whitelising today as a way to prohibit unapproved software/applications from running on the protected system.  

"Good" software makes its way onto the white list, while unauthorised software is prohibited from executing and doing whatever "bad thing" it was intended to do.  

Many enthusiasts believe whitelisting is a good defence against "zero day" intrusions - preventing some, but not all.  

Forward-thinking whitelisting advocates in Australia are looking at advancements in whitelisting as a way to quarantine unauthorised software upon discovery, quarantine after blocking, enhance whitelist management, and as a way to produce a file system inventory that can accelerate verification of software on a hardware platform.  

Regardless of the depth of initial usage in control systems, whitelisting is a technology that provides another layer of defence and will be available for process control systems. 
 
Encryption 
A key issue we are seeing today is that almost all communication on a control system is clear text, sometimes used synonymously with plain text.  

With this situation, a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack, a form of active eavesdropping, is possible.

This type of attack allows the intruder to "fake out" its victims, passing information as though it were a trusted endpoint, operating in a "trust the sender" scheme.  

A solution is to adopt encrypted communications. Encryption is the process of transforming plain text, using an algorithm, to make "the message" unreadable to anyone, except those possessing the encryption key.  

It is a common method for protecting information in commercial systems and with wireless communication.  

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