Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cybersecurity – No Silver Bullets

By Alan Grau, Member of MESA International’s Cybersecurity Working Group

Cybersecurity continues to be a focus of concern for manufacturing and industrial systems. It is critical to find solutions for protecting the plant floor.  The threat landscape, as described in the March MESA cybersecurity blog, continues to evolve.  Attacks are becoming more focused and more sophisticated and unfortunately, more successful.


Determining the appropriate response is a critical challenge for plant operators. One resource available to operators is provided in the Department of Homeland Security report, "Seven Strategies to Defend ICSs" issued in December 2015 by the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC).  

In Fiscal Year 2015, 295 incidents were reported to the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), and many more went unreported or undetected. The department recommends seven strategies that would have addressed all the breaches and would have protected the safety and reliability of the affected industrial operations.

This is a really interesting whitepaper. On the one hand, it shows that basic security techniques actually work. If the seven basic strategies they outlined had been widely applied, the reported attacks would have been blocked. I am a huge believer in implementing the basics when it comes to security. It’s just common sense to lock the doors of your house at night.  

But implementing only basic security can lead to a false sense of overall security. Why? Because the basic attacks were successful, so hackers did not have to use more advanced techniques.. For instance, if you park your car in a bad neighborhood and leave the door unlocked with a big pile of cash in the back seat, someone will likely open the door and steal your money. Saying that you could have stopped the theft by locking your doors is clearly ridiculous. Someone could smash your window, pick the lock, or show up with a tow truck and steal the entire car.  

Even if the basic security measures had been in place, that does not guarantee that hackers would have given up and gone home. They would have dug deeper into their bag of tricks and tried something else. Would they have still gotten in? In many cases, I believe the answer is yes, which is why we need to implement more advanced security capabilities. 

Approaches outlined in this report are effective and should not be abandoned or ignored. They provide a strong foundation for security and we must start with the basics. But we can’t stop with these basic solutions.  

Comprehensive cybersecurity management programs must also address Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), Ransomware, and other evolving threats. They must include an overall security architecture, along with the policies and training we provide to the people using our systems.  Only by addressing the entire system can we achieve security. 

The MESA Cybersecurity working group has been formed to help provide practical guidance and direction for manufacturing organizations faced with the challenge of developing such programs. The group’s goal is to identify, protect and support the use of information available from a variety of sources, augmenting it where necessary with additional tools and resources. Over the upcoming months the working group will be delivering the results of our recent survey on cybersecurity (you can still participate by clicking here), and a series of blogs and whitepapers on cybersecurity issues for manufacturing organizations.      

About the Author

Alan Grau

Alan Grau is President and Co-Founder of Icon Labs, a leading provider of security solutions for embedded devices.  You can reach him at alan.grau@iconlabs.com.
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