Feeds

Why power plants need anti-virus

Symantec's cyber-security power pitch

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Analysis Utility companies are been urged to review cyber security risks as the industry moves over from proprietary technologies to cheaper Windows-based systems. Attendees at an Industrial Cyber Security Conference in London on Tuesday 15 March were told that the control systems of utilities are becoming open to the kinds of attacks that bedevil corporate systems, such as computer worms and DDoS attacks, as power and water companies embrace the net.

What's the evidence for this? PA Consulting and Symantec, the joint organisers of the event and not exactly disinterested parties, cite an Australian case where a disgruntled ex-employee, Vitek Boden, hacked into a water control system and flooded the grounds of a hotel with million of gallons of sewage in March and April 2000. In Russia, malicious crackers managed to take control of a gas pipeline run by Gazprom for around 24 hours in 1999. Then there's a case where the Slammer worm affected the operation of the corporate network at Ohio's inactive Davis-Besse nuclear plant and disabled a safety monitoring system for nearly five hours in January 2003.

Using this, and other largely anecdotal evidence, PA and Symantec paints a picture of critical systems rife for attack. There was a presentation on how to hack water control systems at a recent Birmingham hacker convention (BrumCum), they say - don't you see it's all about to kick off.

It’s standard marketing tactics for security firms, particularly at the point where they are trying to break into new markets, to talk up the level of threat. Put crudely: fear sells. But perhaps, in the case of utility control systems, there's reason for concern.

SCADA risks

Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems lie at the heart of systems that control water, sewage and electricity systems. These devices allow utilities to remotely control and monitor generation equipment and substations over phone lines, radio links and, increasingly, IP networks.

Gary Sevounts, director of industry solutions for Symantec, said these systems had been disconnected for decades but this is changing as utilities connect their control systems to corporate networks. "The problem is that IT people don't understand SCADA and SCADA people don't understand security," he said.

Interconnection between SCADA environments and corporate networks introduce specific security needs around protocols and applications used that are not addressed by the majority of existing cyber security products. What standards that do exist are immature and power systems have different requirements in terms of reliability and availability to corporate systems.

To bridge this gap Symantec partnered with process control firm Areva in June 2004 to adapt its security products (such as Manhunt intrusion detection system, Gateway Security and anti-virus products) for use in the electricity generation and distribution industry.

Justin Lowe, PA Consultant, and Symantec representatives both stressed the point that applying firewall defences alone, whilst a good first step, is not enough to protect process control systems. "Patching is a nightmare in process control. Standard policies are guaranteed not to work," he said.

Sticking with old systems is not an option for most utilities but Lowe said he sometimes advised clients to run the latest, greatest Bluetooth-enabled devices and venerable old control systems in parallel. "These systems can co-exist," he said, adding that it all boils down to developing and implementing an appropriate risk management strategy. ®

Related stories

Sluggish movement on power grid cyber security
El Reg badly misguided on cyber-terror threat
Nachi worm infected Diebold ATMs
Slammer worm crashed Ohio nuke plant net
Hacker jailed for revenge sewage attacks

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Webcam hacker pervs in MASS HOME INVASION
You thought you were all alone? Nope – change your password, says ICO
You really need to do some tech support for Aunty Agnes
Free anti-virus software, expires, stops updating and p0wns the world
Meet OneRNG: a fully-open entropy generator for a paranoid age
Kiwis to seek random investors for crowd-funded randomiser
USB coding anarchy: Consider all sticks licked
Thumb drive design ruled by almighty buck
Attack reveals 81 percent of Tor users but admins call for calm
Cisco Netflow a handy tool for cheapskate attackers
Patch NOW! Microsoft slings emergency bug fix at Windows admins
Vulnerability promotes lusers to domain overlords ... oops
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.