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Ex-US National Security Official Clarke: Regulation Key To Protecting ICS/SCADA From Cyberattacks

Richard Clarke proposes a Y2K-style approach to beefing up security for critical infrastructure.

S4 CONFERENCE – Miami, Fla. – Richard Clarke, the former US National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism and White House official under three administrations, in a keynote here today proposed a Y2K-style initiative to tighten security in industrial control system (ICS) networks that would require sites to meet certain security levels by a specific date.

Clarke, who is chairman of security consulting firm Good Harbor, said this security effort would require what he described as the "dirtiest word in Washington:" regulation.

Clarke's regulation recommendation would address a major challenge faced by ICS/SCADA operators: getting the budget and resources to protect industrial control systems from damaging cyberattacks requires convincing upper management or Boards of Directors to plan for the unexpected or never-before seen incidents, Clarke said. 

"You have to persuade your bosses and policymakers that this is a problem even though it's never happened before," he said of the potential for catastrophic cyberattacks and other serious events. Clarke said it's a matter of setting a deadline for when systems must be secured: "What we need as a country to set those goal is to say industry-by industry at a certain date everything deployed has to have a security package on it. Everything deployed after this date will have to have a security package on it," for example, he explained.

It's tough to get execs to fund possible threats that their organizations haven't experienced or that haven't actually occurred yet in ICS/SCADA,  he said. "you've never really had a big cyberattack" on an ICS or SCADA system, which is the problem here, he said. "They want you to put a probablity on that. You have to resist that."

So healthcare, electric power and other ICS systems and connected automobiles would adopt this security policy approach, he said. This phased-in approach addresses the reality that ICS/SCADA systems can't be forklift-updated overnight. "[You] will have to spend money to replace all of the legacy systems … They change every 30 years or more or not," he said. "We have to do something different."

Y2K Flashback
Clarke said the market will adapt to the demands for more secure ICS/SCADA and other systems in critical industries such as healthcare and critical infrastructure.

"We have been here before. We had the Y2K problem," he said, referring to the industry-wide effort prior to Jan. 1, 2000, to update software and systems to accommodate the new century in older computer clocks. "Where we had to go back and change everything…change software … people thought then that was an ambitious goal, but we did it. And we can do it again."

Clarke says the only way to get ICS/SCADA  infrastructures protected from looming threats is to adopt a form of regulation, which he acknowledged was a tall order in the regulatory-averse political environment. "In the absence of regulation, none of this is going to happen," he said. "Regulations aren't always bad."

In the past, they've been badly written and micromanaged, he said, but they can be simpler.

"You come up with the standards and products and the beauty of that is the government is not telling you what to do and everyone has to do it so it doesn't put anyone at a competitive disadvantage," he said.

But Clarke admitted that the chances of this coming together are slim amid an anti-regulatory climate in Washington. "And given that trying to get people to prevent something that has never happened before … so I'm not optimistic. But on the other hand, it's never happened before, either … So maybe that's the thing that's never happened before" that will," he said.

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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LoriH800
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LoriH800,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/18/2017 | 10:40:25 AM
ICS Cyber Attacks
Hi Kelly, I am curious about your starement regarding there have been not been attacks on ICS.  There have been quite a few cyber attacks on ICS's, including two incidents causing power outtages in Ukrania, the most recent (December17, 2016) was a topic of conversation at S4.  Why did you say there had been no attacks?
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