A Practical Defense
Energy and electric utilities need realistic security resources
- By Katherine Brocklehurst
- Aug 01, 2016
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
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
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Security Today.