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SCADA industry debates flaw disclosure

Vendors and researchers face off

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Yet, security researchers acknowledge that the software that monitors, manages and runs the variety of manufacturing and infrastructure control systems is indeed different. While researchers can hold the threat of public disclosure over the heads of an uncooperative software maker in the enterprise application arena, publicly outing a flaw in a SCADA or DCS system has larger ramifications, Pollet said.

"You have to be careful disclosing these issues to the public when the vendors seem uninterested in talking about the problem, because these systems cannot be patched overnight and the information could prove devastating in the wrong hands."

Moreover, software vendors and infrastructure operators legitimately need more time because most of the industry's legacy systems were not created to be easily updated.

And, to be fair, LiveData's response to the first SCADA vulnerability handled by a third party - about three to six months for a fix and less than nine months for notification - is in line with the response from many enterprise and commercial software makers. Not bad for an industry that has not had a history of third-party vulnerability disclosure, said Digital Bond's Franz.

"The idea that someone outside their customer base would have access to their product to find vulnerabilities is strange to them," said Franz, who created an interest group within the Process Control Systems Forum to hash out the issues.

Security researchers are not the only ones applying pressure to software developers in the SCADA and DCS industry. The software maker's customers - infrastructure owners and operators - are starting to demand proof of security audits, especially in the power industry where companies are required by a recent law to adhere to the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) guidelines published by the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC).

"The difference that a few months has made is absolutely incredible," said Lori Dustin, vice president of marketing and services for infrastructure security company Verano. "The people I'm meeting with now have a copy of the NERC documents in their hands."

While many in the real-time process control industry might not agree, Invensys's Rakaczky stresses that allowing US-CERT to bring other industries' vulnerability reporting practices to the bear on infrastructure issues should help reduce communications problems and increase trust.

"People will respond faster than if some random white hat calls them up out of the blue," he said.

But, while vendors work with US-CERT and focus on improving product security, infrastructure owners need to move more quickly to prevent unauthorised access to their systems from the internet and implement more strict auditing, Rakaczky said.

"Right now, we need perimeter protection," he said. "We need to stop the wound from bleeding before we can heal it."

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

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