ICS Security Defined
Industrial control systems (ICS) are often a sitting target for cybercriminals. The majority of these systems monitor complex industrial processes and critical infrastructures that deliver power, water, transport, manufacturing and other essential services. There was once a time when these systems were essentially dumb, and those that were computerized used protocols that were proprietary to the system and lived on networks protected by the outside world.
Today it's a different story. The world has changed and as a result, the majority of industrial control systems in operation today connect directly or indirectly to the internet. This introduces them to vulnerabilities like any other connected system. The difference is that downtime or infiltration of an ICS network could result in massive outages, hundreds of thousands of impacted users and even national disaster. ICS security is a security framework that protects these systems against accidental or intentional risks.
The Evolution of ICS Security
Industrial control systems can consist of a complex network of interactive control systems or simply a small number of controllers. These systems receive information from remote sensors that measure and monitor process variables. From control valves to pressure gauges, an ICS sends commands and receive alerts from many different components.
Years ago, these control systems used no communications technologies or computing power and instead existed in silos. This meant that people on the plant floor would need to manually read each component and report the findings. Thanks to IoT and advanced sensors, these manual processes are not only automated but able to report on so many more readings and send back so much more useful data.
Common ICS Threats
Securing industrial systems is no trivial task. Most were built before the first cyber threat surfaced, and did not have built-in external security controls factored into their design. Understanding some of the most common industrial control system threats is the first step that any industrial organization can take to protect their network.
External Threats and Targeted Attacks
When you consider that industrial control systems often come under the umbrella of chemical engineering, manufacturing, distribution and healthcare, it is little wonder that these systems are often targeted by terrorist groups, hacktivists and other groups with malicious intent. The aim of politically motivated attacks is usually focused on causing physical damage or operational disruption, while industrial espionage attacks will be more focused on stealing or damaging Intellectual Property (IP).
Insider threats are well documented when it comes to IT networks, but they can also pose a huge risk to industrial networks. From disgruntled employees to contractors with an ax to grind, the internal threat is real. Most ICS networks require little to no authentication or encryption that controls or restricts user activity. This means that any insider will generally have unlimited access to any device that exists on the network, including SCADA applications and other critical components. Systems that have been upgraded to connect to a digital interface can be easily compromised by malware or a USB device used to download sensitive data.
It is human nature to make mistakes. However, when mistakes are made on an industrial control systems network they can be costly and have a huge impact on operations and reputation. In fact, in many cases, human error is considered the biggest threat to an ICS network. Human errors can include making incorrect configurations, PLC programming errors or forgetting to monitor key metrics or alerts.
Protecting What Matters
Forcepoint's Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) decrypts traffic while safeguarding privacy, protects high-assurance systems and responds to incidents in minutes, not hours. The result? Best-in-class protection for your ICS network regardless of how many connections, components and processes it manages.