A Practical Defense

Energy and electric utilities need realistic security resources

A resilient electric power grid is critical to a wide range of essential services and is a highly complex mosaic of technologies. These electrical power grids are extremely complex and effectively defend against external cyber threats, malicious insiders and human error from employees or contractors.

General Keith Alexander, former director of the National Security Agency, has cited that 41 percent of cyber attacks are targeting energy enterprises, including oil and gas. Even though cyber attacks targeting power grids are on the rise, cyber security is rarely a top priority for these organizations. This is not to say that energy organizations are unaware of increasing cyber security risks; they are. However, these organizations are built on aging and fragile infrastructures that contain many vulnerable points. There is a perception by energy organizations that addressing cyber security concerns will come at the expense of their primary mission: the reliable and safe delivery of energy service.

What if there were a cost-effective way to improve cyber security while improving reliability, availability and safety for the industry?

Why is Industrial Automation Cyber Security so Hard?

Legacy and equipment age. In 2016, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) determined that the U.S. electric energy infrastructure is a patchwork of equipment that has widely differing ages and capabilities. Nationally, more than 70 percent of transmission lines and power transformers are 25 years or older. Many devices cannot withstand heavy traffic or unexpected function codes, and can’t manage the complex password hygiene required by cyber security best practices. In spite of these problems, the systems may be performing beautifully, therefore, “rip and replace” is not an option from an ICS Operations perspective.

Vulnerable industrial protocols. TCP/IP is widely used on business networks and vulnerabilities in this protocol and has been used effectively for years by outside attackers. Using speciallyconstructed protocol frames designed to take normal protocol communications off track, attacks such as Denial of Service (DoS) or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and Man-inthe- Middle (MiTM) have created havoc within many industries. Protocol weaknesses exist in many industrial protocols, including Modbus, OPC, EtherNet/IP, DNP3, and IEC-60870-5-104.

In many cases, the relative obscurity of these protocols has provided energy organizations a false sense of security. In fact, details about these protocols and their vulnerabilities are publicly available.

Industrial connectivity. New Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices provide a whole new range of potential cyber security attack points, and many operations professionals are surprised to learn that their ICS/SCADA devices are connected to the Internet and potentially vulnerable. Further, many business models within industrial critical infrastructure require connectivity with suppliers, vendors, and partners who may pass on vulnerabilities or viruses from their own insecure infrastructure.

Lack of network segmentation. Energy and electric utility organizations often run portions of their networks with a “flat” architecture. This often means that key assets for both corporate IT and ICS Operations organizations are shared across a common LAN. This network architecture allows attackers to quickly move throughout the organization regardless of where they start, putting both industrial assets and corporate resources at risk. Industrial standards, such as ANSI/ISA-62443-3-2, require network segmentation that creates smaller and controllable secure zones, and secure conduits between them.

Skills shortage. Although ICS organizations realize that cyber security risks are rising, often the teams that operate the equipment are not cyber security experts. These teams usually don’t know how to mitigate these risks without affecting reliability and availability of their systems and services.

IT Security Solutions Aren’t Designed for Industrial Requirements

Many IT cyber security solutions aren’t suited to the unique needs of industrial automation networks and have risk characteristics that make them unacceptable to industrial control environments. Energy and electric utilities need to take immediate steps to reduce risk and increase power grid resilience given all the points of vulnerability and lack of adequate cyber security.

Tofino Security is the first appliance specifically designed to protect industrial control systems and critical infrastructure, while addressing all of the challenges previously listed. It’s easy for ICS operations to install and requires no pre-configuration, network changes, or downtime and disruption to operations. Tofino Xenon for Energy is available for order and supports two of the most widely utilized protocols within energy and electric utilities: the Distributed Network Protocol (DNP3) and its international twin, IEC-60870-5-104. The appliance also enforces security for other common industrial protocols, such as Modbus, EtherNet/IP, and OPC. Energy and electric utilities need low-cost, effective industrial cyber security solutions like Tofino Xenon for Energy to increase power grid resilience to cyber attacks.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Security Today.


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