Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems play a pivotal role in the industrial landscape. These are the systems that oversee and control processes across various sites, from power generation and distribution to water treatment, manufacturing, and more.
SCADA systems are the backbone of many aspects of our critical infrastructure, and as such, making sure they’re secure and running as intended is crucial for the organizations that utilize them. SCADA encompasses different types of control systems, including DCS (distributed control systems), MES (manufacturing execution systems), and PCS (process control systems). These different systems are used across different industry sectors.
This blog post explores the importance of SCADA security monitoring and some of the first steps that teams can take to secure and monitor their SCADA systems.
Understanding SCADA and the Threat Landscape in Critical Infrastructure
We’ve written before about what SCADA is and how it’s used throughout industrial systems and critical infrastructure. But on a simplified level, SCADA is a system of software and hardware components that allow for the supervision and control of plants, both locally and remotely.
SCADA systems are just one example of the blurring of the lines between IT (information technology) and OT (operational technology). While remote access and control into industrial environments introduces opportunities for greater efficiency, these connections have also introduced new attack vectors and vulnerabilities.
As a result, cyber threats relevant to industrial systems and critical infrastructure are more complex and constantly changing. A compromise to either system can have consequences on safety, operations, and the delivery of services, especially if there’s no clear understanding of the environment’s architecture or visibility into its behavior.
Compromise to the SCADA system of a power grid, for example, can result in a widespread loss of power. Attacks can also compromise the integrity of industrial devices and their safety systems.
Securing SCADA systems and the industrial assets associated with them is challenging due to the complexity and uniqueness of these environments. Industrial sites often utilize legacy assets designed to last a long time, and many have diverse collections of assets from multiple vendors and manufacturers. The adoption of cybersecurity measures is often slow going, and these security best practices are not always applicable within industrial environments.
Staying Ahead of Threats with SCADA Security Monitoring
Visibility into assets and network activity is key to quickly detecting threats, misconfigurations, and other issues before they can have an adverse impact on the environment. When it comes to securing your industrial environment, establishing this understanding is the first step.
Monitoring SCADA systems helps detect and prevent threats early, making critical infrastructure more secure and resilient. It also ensures compliance with specific regulatory requirements, reduces downtime, and lowers costs associated with restoring operations or meeting compliance.
Here are some steps that you can take to start implementing SCADA network security within your own environment:
- Conduct a comprehensive asset discovery. Identifying and documenting relevant information for all your devices, endpoints, and network components will help you understand the scope of your SCADA system. This is also the first step to establishing full visibility into your environment.
- Implement network segmentation and monitoring. Dividing the network environment into segmented zones with different levels of access and control can deter lateral movement. Continuous monitoring in these segments also allows for the detection of any anomalies, unauthorized activity, or other unexpected behavior that might disrupt operations.
- Continuously log and analyze data. Logging and analyzing network traffic and system activity can make it easier to identify and respond to potential threats and vulnerabilities. Maintaining this record of environmental data can be used as evidence to meet compliance requirements, or used as backup for rapid system recovery in the event of an outage.
- Establish relevant security policies and controls. Strong security policies around access control, permissions, and network segmentation are important to creating and maintaining hygienic security practices. These should be regularly reviewed and updated to adapt to any changes or gaps.
Of course, securing critical infrastructure is a continuous process, and a journey with many possible turns. Establishing visibility into your environment and SCADA security monitoring is only the first step in establishing a strong foundation to guide future security-driven initiatives.
Whether your organization is just getting started on your OT visibility journey, SynSaber offers a lightweight, software-based sensor (the Saber) specifically designed for OT and ICS environments. Gather data across your industrial environment and send it into existing tools and workflows for actionable data and unparalleled insight your teams can use to protect operations. Schedule some time for a personalized demo to learn more about what SynSaber can do.