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Long Shadow Of Stuxnet Inspires Custom Anti-Malware Project

Global maritime SCADA player forced to take the malware problem into its own hands for its offshore drilling, subsea, and merchant marine customers

Another sign of how Stuxnet is reshaping the SCADA security world: One major global supplier and integrator in offshore drilling, subsea, and merchant marine operations pushed for the creation of a custom malware protection solution that better fits operationally sensitive critical infrastructure environments.

Kongsberg Maritime's customers in the process-control industry, haunted by the harsh wakeup call of Stuxnet, have been calling for strong anti-malware protection that doesn't disrupt their operations. "Our customers have always been concerned about cybersecurity, but after Stuxnet there has been a lot more focus and determination about this," says Bjornar Eilertsen, product adviser at Kongsberg Maritime.

[More SCADA bugs, exploits in the wake of Stuxnet, but gradually improving security in some products, new data shows. See SCADA Security In A Post-Stuxnet World.]

Malware protection and updates can be dicey in process-control environments, however -- a false-positive from an AV program can wreak havoc by disrupting a critical process. Kongsberg's drilling rigs cost around $600,000 per day to run, and in some environments a millisecond of downtime can throw off production or operations.

Every virus definition update has to be carefully rolled out for the same reason. "In both marine and process networks and systems, this is very difficult to do, to keep [anti-malware software] always updated [without impacting production]," Eilertsen says. "We need to do manual testing for every definition file and every one we send out to our customers. We can't keep up with [that].

"Traditional AV was made for offices and not suitable in a process network. They were never designed to fulfill the requirements we have."

So Kongsberg went to some of the major antivirus firms and asked them for better malware protection that doesn't disrupt process-control operations for critical infrastructure environments. Norman was the only vendor the company approached that was willing to work with it.

With input from Kongsberg, Norman built Konsgberg a custom solution based on its existing network protection-based anti-malware software, but with several features unique to the maritime process-control industry.

“Norman had a product for network protection, and also came up with this ingenious idea about how to protect … USB ports, a major vector. We are able to use the USB ports we need to when we need to extract files and with ports from the process network," Eilertsen says.

Kongsberg's taking the maritime SCADA malware problem into its own hands is a sign of the times in the post-Stuxnet world. The attack on a specific Iranian nuclear facility's equipment showed that these systems are not insulated or immune from attack. "More and more [of these organizations] are starting to take a look around and evaluate what they should be doing," says Chris Peterson, CTO at LogRhythm, and are realizing that compliance isn't enough. "They are becoming more aware of the threats that are out there."

The Kongsberg Malware Protection system basically forms a perimeter around the network, says Bjorn Kristian Neumann, product manager for Kongsberg Maritime. It's a dedicated Windows machine that typically sits between the LAN and its gateway, scanning and blocking malicious traffic, and one of its key features is USB protection. It's designed to operate in the low-bandwidth, high-latency satellite networks common on ships, and malware signatures are downloaded to that server only.

When a new USB is brought aboard a ship, for instance, it's inoperable on the network until it has been scanned by the Malware Protection system, according to Neumann.

USBs are a necessity for offshore operations, which requires transporting data from offshore to onshore and vice versa. But that also adds the risk of introducing malware to the process control systems, Neumann says.

"Imagine on a production rig you might have 14 operating stations on the bridge, 30 to 40 in the production-control room. You need antivirus on each, and you need Internet connection to receive new definition files," Neumann says. "And you need to protect them from introducing viruses by USB."

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Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at 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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