Perimeter
4/7/2009
06:18 PM
Gadi Evron
Gadi Evron
Commentary
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SCADA Security: What SCADA Security?

SCADA, the control systems for such infrastructure services as water and energy, has us worried whenever critical infrastructure defense is mentioned. Why, then, is it the most insecure industry on the planet?

SCADA, the control systems for such infrastructure services as water and energy, has us worried whenever critical infrastructure defense is mentioned. Why, then, is it the most insecure industry on the planet?SCADA security is as crucial as ever today with cyberattacks on the rise, including those that are apparently state-sponsored. And without contest, SCADA is a major target, with the most potential damage to the economy and to daily life.

Many efforts are in the works to increase the security of SCADA systems, but I do not see any measurable results. Lack of security processes, such as secure coding, auditing, and modern patch distribution systems, are some examples, but the most telling one is how SCADA vendors treat software vulnerabilities.

SCADA security vulnerability-handling is a sham as it stands today. In the 1990s, Bugtraq and other forums introduced the concept of openly releasing vulnerability information on products from IT vendors in full disclosure. Ten years later, many of these vendors acknowledge reports, work with researchers to solve the issues, and provide their clients with relevant information and patches in a timely fashion. Today many software vendors act responsibly, and full disclosure has mostly become a matter of choice.

This model may not work with SCADA, however. How do you release information when a SCADA vendor will not patch the vulnerability? Misuse can seriously damage civilian infrastructure.

Full disclosure is a public-shaming technique. Perhaps another sort of public shaming could be introduced?

One idea is to create a centralized reporting Website where SCADA vulnerabilities are tracked (with whatever information can be made public), and the vendors can be called out for their slow response and patching time.

SCADA operators say taking a plant offline is unacceptable. In my opinion, the threat is serious enough to make security top priority. If it were a priority, then SCADA systems would be designed so that patching can be done without a shutdown.

Unless an alternative is found, I will soon be of the opinion that for us to be safe two or even 20 years in the future -- when the world is even more connected -- public shaming on SCADA system vulnerabilities is the only alternative to waking up to a digital 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.

Follow Gadi Evron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/gadievron

Gadi Evron is an independent security strategist based in Israel. Special to Dark Reading.

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