Heavy industry is increasingly becoming the target of cyber attackers. Financial institutions may be getting all the press, but industrial networks get more attacks, both in terms of numbers and types of attacks. Many of these seem intended solely to probe for weaknesses—for now. But they represent a serious enough potential to harm U.S. industrial capabilities that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DoHS) has now issued recommendations for the protection of industrial control systems.
The DoHS Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) issued in December Seven Steps to Effectively Defend Industrial Control Systems. The document opens by pointing out that the industry reported at least 295 incidents of cyber intrusion to ICS-CERT in fiscal year 2015, with many more likely unreported or undetected. Further, these incidents have been increasing in frequency and sophistication.
Simply building a network with a hardened perimeter (i.e., firewalled) is no longer adequate, ICS-CERT concludes.
To help mitigate against cyberattack, then, the ICS-CERT recommends industrial network owners implement seven key strategies in their networks to improve their defenses. Taking these steps, the agency claims, would have prevented 98% of the incidents reported in FY2015.
The seven key strategies are:
- Implement application whitelisting — By only allowing pre-approved applications to execute, networks can detect and prevent execution of malware. SCADA systems, HMI computers, and database systems are particularly good candidates for this strategy.
- Ensure proper configuration and patch management — Security practices grow stale as adversaries continually improve their capabilities. As a result, unpatched software becomes an increasingly vulnerable target over time. The key is to implement a process for the safe importation and implementation of trusted patches.
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