Cybersecurity for Industrial Control Systems: Why Does It Matter the Most?
Some computers are specially designed to run and control your industry processes, operations, and machinery. These are known as Industrial Control Systems (ICS).
You can use these systems across various critical infrastructure sectors. For instance, these are ideal for energy production, manufacturing, water treatment, transportation, and more.
Despite their complex functionality, ICSs are vulnerable to cyber threats, so having the right protective strategy is essential. Let’s find out the role of ICS in industrial infrastructure that makes them so crucial for Cyber attackers.
ICS is Indispensable in Critical Industrial Infrastructure
Industrial control systems are standard and used in machinery throughout a wide range of industries worldwide. The systems gracefully monitor, manage, and administer everything from nuclear power plants to HVAC installations. We see their role in various sectors.
With the help of ICS, energy resources are allocated more efficiently. ICS monitors and controls power generation and distribution system components like generators, transformers, and switches.
All this ensures that the energy is distributed equally. These systems can also provide detailed and deep insights into energy consumption patterns.
Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are also responsible for ensuring clean and safe water. High-level computers automatically manage things like pumps, chemicals, and equipment in water treatment plants, so everything works just right.
These systems also monitor the water’s quality and can fix problems quickly. Plus, they save energy and make sure we use the right chemicals.
You come across many traffic signals daily when you commute home to your workplace. Have you ever wondered how the lights on a traffic signal change from red to yellow and then finally green within set time intervals?
Industrial Control Systems handles this behind the scenes. Because of the settings, ICS, you can schedule your ride and determine the duration to reach your destination and what route your ride will take on the public travel systems.
Not only that, ICS makes sure that you enjoy your ride safely and without any accidents.
In work sectors, you have managers who manage the everyday functioning of your work area. Have you ever wondered who handles all the tasks in a factory, as a factory operates mostly on machines?
ICS manages everything from turning your devices on to shutting them down.
Sometimes, you may experience an unforeseen situation when a machine stops working or a rather dangerous situation. Under these circumstances, you hear emergency alarms ringing. ICS ensures the devices work fine and keeps you alert in an emergency.
Increasing Reliance of ICS on Technology in Industrial Settings
We are all living in the world of automation, as machines do most of our work. The following are why we have shifted from human labour to devices that function on ICS.
- Efficiency – Industrial Control Systems have made your work-related tasks so much easier. They make sure that there is maximum productivity and reduced expenses.
- Zero Error – Humans are prone to making mistakes, but that’s not true with machines operating on Industrial Control Systems. They carry out all the processes and tasks you assign with precision and zero error.
- Data-Driven Decision Making – Your modern businesses need data-driven control systems that help you make intelligent decisions. The Industrial Control Systems keeps a record of all the previous data. You can use the old analysed data to improve your future strategies. This helps you achieve your business goals in the long run.
Possible Cyber Attacks on Industrial Control System
Now, you must have understood the importance of Industrial Control Systems (ICS); still, it is equally vital that you ensure the safety of these systems to protect them from any potential cyber-attacks.
Remember, if there is an attacking your ICS, your whole system will break down. Let’s look at some common types of cyberattacks on ICS so you can take prevention measures.
Malware attacks on Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are sneaky. The dilemma is these viruses can get into systems that belong to different sectors. Once malware is inside the system, it can mess up how things work or even steal important information. You might have heard of Stuxnet and Triton.
Phishing Attacks are the most commonly used method to attack the ICS systems. In these attacks, attackers send fake and malicious emails to the employees, which are written authentically.
These emails contain links that direct them to a page that requires their login credentials to download malicious files. Upon clicking these links, employees would give access to the ICS network, which results in the stealing or distributing of data.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
It’s 2023, and hackers are getting advanced (MITM) attacks, one fine example. In these attacks, hackers first enter ICS systems and then monitor the activities carried out across the networks.
With time, they change the commands and get deeper into the system. When someone notices it, the maximum damage has been done already. These attacks highlight the importance of hiding your IP and the need for effective cyber security strategies.
Zero Day Exploits
Hackers look for ways to break into your network and crash it. In their endeavour, they find keys that open doors for them into your system. In zero-day attacks, hackers usually find the keys and enter the system.
Data exfiltration Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks
In Data exfiltration, hackers sneak into your networks, steal sensitive information, and use it against you. On the other hand, DDoS attacks block your system by burdening it with excess data, which is beyond what it can manage.
Importance of Cybersecurity in Industrial Control System
The industrial control system is of utmost importance because it handles a lot of essential factors, including power grids and manufacturing infrastructure.
It is essential to ensure cyber security is in place so the operations of ICS remain smooth. Let’s see why cybersecurity in ICS is necessary.
Inconvenience and Disruption of Operations
We know how ICS controls critical infrastructure like power plants and water treatment facilities. A cyber attack in such a situation can disrupt operations, leading to economic losses and public inconvenience.
National Security and Supply Chain Risk
ICS is handling the critical infrastructure that is sometimes important for national defence. Cyberattacks on ICS can be a threat to a nation’s security.
Same as this, ICS relies on complex supply chains, and cybercriminals can exploit any weaknesses in any part of the chain.
The Industrial Control System often handles sensitive data that should never be compromised. Cybersecurity always ensures that data confidentiality and integrity are in place.
Cyber Security Practices for Industrial Control Systems
Let’s have a look at what you can do to prevent the cyberattacks on ICS:
Concerning ICS, network segmentation enables you to divide your data into multiple parts to avoid an overflow. This will ensure that your networks can hold the data within their capacity and size, and eventually, the data flow will be smooth.
Several layers will be created across your network, and it will become challenging for any hacker to break into your system as he will have to crack all the data segments to reach your network’s core control system. This division of data will act as a safety barrier for your data.
Access control is similar to creating a security checkpoint outside your data storage house where you closely monitor who gets to enter your home.
Outside our homes, we have security guards, and in the world of ICS, you can assign passwords and scans to give access to your network.
You can also add fingerprint scans to ensure absolute protection. By doing this, your network will be at a lower risk of being exposed to unauthorised parties.
You frequently get software updates on your mobile phone to make improvements and fix bugs. Just like that, through patch management, you can improve your ICS functioning and maximise its performance.
Through this method, you can regularly keep a check and detect any issues in your system, even if they are minor. The sooner you can resolve your system’s problems, the better.
Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems
Installing Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems into your Industrial Control Systems allows you to closely monitor who gets access to your network. These systems can cache the information regarding the most used data and parties who frequently visit the system.
Whenever there is unusual activity around your network or systems, these protective shields – Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems will notify you or automatically block them if you set them on default settings.
Security Awareness Training
You should give security awareness training to your employees to teach them how to protect the systems. Through the awareness training session, your employees learn about potential cyber-attacks and how to deal with them.
These training programs would act as a prerequisite, and they would become extra careful in dealing with data. You should schedule such security awareness training sessions from time to time.
The process of End-point protection is similar to network segmentation. The only difference is that you install a security protocol with each segment.
Even if a hacker enters your system, he will have to face these safety protocols at every data segment. He wouldn’t be able to tamper with your data despite breaking into your system.
In this method, you keep your sensitive data separate from other data at an unreachable place by the hackers. This way, that particular system or data will be air-gapped and won’t have automatic access to other networks.
One example could be that you relocate your entire system to a completely different location, away from all your other systems. If you must use this air-gapped system/data, you must visit the site to access this isolated system.
Bottom Line – Be advanced in Strategy to curb Cyber Threats
The world has become an online hub, and even the critical infrastructure is moving to the internet. You cannot prevent hackers from carrying out malicious activities, but you can protect the vital Infrastructure with the right strategy and protective measures.
Cyber security in ICS is essential, and you can do your part with the mentioned protective measures.
About the Author!
Anas Hassan is a tech geek and cybersecurity enthusiast at PureVPN. He has vast experience in the field of digital transformation industry. When Anas isn’t blogging, he watches the football games.