Industrial Control System Cybersecurity: Protecting ICS in the Digital Age

ICS Cybersecurity - Industrial Control System Cybersecurity Planning

– Industrial Control System Cybersecurity Measures You Can Implement –

By Luc A. Papillon, Chief Technology Officer, Mangan Incorporated and Mangan Cybersecurity

In today’s advancing world, the utilization of technology has become widespread in every aspect of our lives, from transportation to healthcare, finance to manufacturing, countless industries have embraced digital technology to make their processes more efficient as well as effective. Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are no exception. ICS are utilized to manage and control vital infrastructure such as water treatment plants, manufacturing plants, and power grids. The widespread use of technology, however, has made these critical systems vulnerable to cyberattacks. In this article, we will look at the importance of ICS cybersecurity as well as how to properly protect and safeguard industrial control systems from potential cyber threats.

What are Industrial Control Systems?

An Industrial Control System (ICS) is a combination of software, hardware, and network components that operate together to automate and control industrial processes. These types of systems can be found across a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, energy, and transportation.

ICS can be split into two main categories: Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and Distributed Control Systems (DCS).  While the two are intended to provide control and monitoring services, each has a specific purpose and focus.  Beyond control, a SCADA system puts its attention on gathering, monitoring, and processing of data for operators and end users.  SCADA can often have different vendors, systems and controllers working together. A DCS, on the other hand, is more process oriented meaning that it places its emphasis on the processes in each step of the operation.  A DCS is generally borne of a single vendor for controls, communication and operator interface hardware and software.

Industrial Control System Cybersecurity Team

Why are Industrial Control Systems Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks?

ICS are extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks due to their interconnectedness as well as their reliance on digital technology. In the past, ICS were totally isolated from the internet and other networks, making them far less vulnerable to potential cyber-attacks. However, as technology has advanced, ICS have become more and more connected, which has made them now more susceptible than ever to cyber threats. In addition, many ICS were designed well before cybersecurity was a significant concern, which now means that they might have built-in weaknesses that can be exploited by cyber attackers and other bad actors.

The consequences of a successful cyber-attack on an ICS can be catastrophic. As an example, a cyber-attack on a power grid could result in a blackout, which could have terrible outcomes for public safety as well as the economy. Likewise, a cyberattack on a water treatment plant could result in contaminated water, posing a critical threat to public health.

How Can Industrial Control Systems Be Protected from Threats?

To protect industrial control systems from any potential cyber threats, there are a few steps that can be taken:

Eight (8) Steps: Protecting Industrial Control Systems from Cybersecurity Threats

1. Conduct a Risk Assessment

The first step in protecting an ICS from cyber threat is to conduct a thorough risk assessment. This consists of identifying any potential vulnerabilities in the system as well as evaluating the likelihood and impact of a successful cyber-attack. A risk assessment can focus organizations on what they should prioritize in their cybersecurity efforts as well as how to allocate resources accordingly.

2. Develop an ICS Cybersecurity Plan

Based upon the results of the risk assessment, organizations should then develop an ICS cybersecurity plan that outlines measures to be taken for protecting the ICS from cyber threats. This industrial control system cybersecurity plan should include procedures and policies for controlling access to the ICS, monitoring any unusual activity, and methods to properly respond to cyber-attacks.

3. Implement Access Controls

Access control is a critical component of ICS cybersecurity. Organizations should implement extremely strict access control to make sure that only authorized personnel can access the ICS. This may involve implementing steps such as multi-factor authentication, restricting access to specific systems and/or processes, as well as monitoring for any unusual activity.

4. Monitor for Unusual Activity

Monitoring unusual activity is extremely important for detecting cyber-attacks before they cause significant damage. Organizations should implement monitoring tools that can detect any unusual activity, such as changes to system configurations or any unusual network traffic. These tools should be configured to alert security personnel when any unusual activity is detected.

5. Respond to Cyber Attacks

Even with the best-of-the-best cybersecurity measures in place, cyberattacks can still occur. Organizations should therefore have a plan to respond to any successful cyberattack. This includes procedures for containing the attack, steps for investigating the incident, and methods for restoring normal operations. Since each organization varies, the response plan should also include steps to address business continuity and safety measures necessary. This plan should be regularly updated and tested to make certain that it is effective and current.

6. Provide Training for Employees

Employees play a vital role in ICS cybersecurity. Organizations should provide frequent training to employees on the critical importance of industrial control system cybersecurity and the measures that they should take to protect the ICS. This might include training on password management, identifying potential phishing emails, and reporting any unusual activity.

7. Keep Software and Systems Up to Date

Software and the systems used in an ICS should be kept fully current with the latest security patches and updates. This helps to address any vulnerabilities that may be present in the system or software.

8. Implement Physical Security Measures

Physical security measures are also important for protecting an ICS from any cyber threats. Organizations should put in place measures such as access controls, perimeter security, and video surveillance to prevent any unauthorized access to the ICS.

Industrial Control System Cybersecurity – Time to Act

Industrial control systems are of absolute importance to the operation of a variety of industries. Their vulnerability to cyber-attacks can pose a significant risk to both public safety and the economy. Organizations cannot afford to wait until a cyberattack infiltrates their ICS. The risks are simply too great. The time to act is now.  By taking the important steps listed within this article, organizations can help ensure their industrial control system cybersecurity.

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