Industrial Floor Networks Are Prone to Threats

Industrial automation will be interfacing more and more with wireless applications and the Internet as plant managers want to control data and have engineers be able to troubleshoot and see a snapshot of the floor from home or from their cell phones. This article touches on some points of interest to decrease cyber threats to the industrial processes.

Is There a Threat to the Plant Floor Network?

Yes. As long as there are networks, someone will be interested in hacking them. Though interfacing the plant floor with the Internet is not necessarily the top problem. According to an FBI study done in conjunction with the Computer Security Institute of Cybercrime in 2000, the top threat to any network is normally the people working on the networks. According to a study by Tony Stephanou of the SANS Institute in 2001, the FBI study showed that 71% of the security breaches in corporate networks were caused by insiders).

Where are Industrial Floor Attacks Most Likely to Come From?

Internet attacks may bring viruses and logistics problems with software if operators are allowed Internet access from their stations or if industrial networks are connected to the Internet via the corporate network. However, most industrial attacks will be from the following:
• wireless networks
• laptops
• desk modems
• approved vendor connections

What Can Be Done to Separate Industrial Automation from the Corporate IT Networks?

With modern technologies and the integration of wireless on the plant floor, plant managers now have to add security to their long list of concerns for maintaining safe and adequate processes. The following list highlights where some security measures can be taken to prevent mishaps on the plant floor.

• Separate PLCs and DCS systems from the outside world by limiting Windows based HMIs.
• Create clear demarcations between plant floor systems and corporate IT systems.
• Password protect remote plant access.
• Allow plant access via one router, restricted by issued plant laptop MAC address identities.
• Allow only readable plant views for administrators and operations management seeking plant data remotely.
• Create disaster preparedness plans for industrial networks separate from the IT network plans.
• Monitor software changes to the PLCs and the DCS devices by restricting PLC access, or keeping a log book.

Managers should come up with industrial security measures that may be integrated into plant floor industrial systems to alleviate plant floor security headaches related to security. Most breaches in data or process security may be alleviated by following common sense when doing software updates and through diligent training of plant engineers and technicians.

Leave a Reply