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Risk

3/4/2008
10:13 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Is This Really A Good Idea?

In a world concerned with terrorism, is providing the capability to monitor factory and plant information from a handheld device really a good idea?

In a world concerned with terrorism, is providing the capability to monitor factory and plant information from a handheld device really a good idea?A recent story in U.K.-based magazine Drives & Controls explains that a German software maker, Schad, has made available a remote access SCADA tool, dubbed the Extend 7000, that runs from a BlackBerry.

In case you're not familiar with SCADA, it's an acronym for Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition. SCADA systems are used to manage factories, manufacturing plants, and power utilities. Over the years, I've interviewed many experts on the topic, and most agreed that SCADA systems were never designed with security in mind, and that the systems are vulnerable to attack.

That said, there have been very few documented cases, at least publically, of SCADA systems being successfully hacked. Nonetheless, I don't think it's a good idea to provide access to critical factory assets from a wireless device. According to the news story, the Schad system can control and monitor industrial processes using some systems from Siemens. Some of the features include being able to monitor machine speeds, temperatures, and pressures, and even get alerts if something is going awry.

Fine.

But it's the part about "accessing plans and instructions for maintenance purposes" that I find concerning.

Do we really want to make plans and equipment information in certain industries so easily accessible? I don't think so. Hopefully, these are used on private networks, and not connected to the Internet.

And hopefully, the system remains a monitoring tool, and the "Supervisory Control" aspect of SCADA isn't added to any wireless device. But I suspect, over time, the temptation to do so, for sheer convenience and time savings, will be too great.

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