The 90’s were filled with hope on the IT / SCADA front. Asset owners could save money by just moving to the Windows platform. Put web servers in most systems so the browser is the easy to use, universal GUI. Connect everything so information can be used throughout the organization and control can occur wherever the people are. Integrate SCADA and DCS applications with Active Directory for single sign-on and easier user management.

How many times have you thought life would be a lot easier if none of the above had happened? I have heard it numerous times in conferences and from our asset owner clients. This is often followed by an admission that the community has no one to blame but themselves because asset owners asked for most of this and vendors willingly obliged.

The exuberant adoption of IT in the 90’s had at least two major flaws.

1 . Little or no attention was paid to security

This is not surprising and perhaps can be forgiven when considering the level of threat at the time and the limited security efforts even in most organizations. IT security grew up in the 90’s.

The good news is wireless is not making this mistake. Security is a primary consideration in the development of protocols and systems. We can argue if the measures are adequate, what new threats are introduced and their impact on risk, if the standards and implementations are adequately vetted, and other questions. That said, it is clear the community has learned that security must be considered when deploying new technologies.

2. A gross underestimation of the resources required to appropriately maintain and manage the IT hardware and software.

Sure Windows is cheap, but it requires active anti-virus and patch management. There is work to develop an maintain a hardened configuration. Most asset owners thought they could install the Windows HMI and not touch it for at least five years like their previous HMI. Releasing this was not deploy and forget technology, many migrated to having an engineer have the added task of being an IT System Administrator which is not what the wanted or was trained to do.

More egregious examples are domain controllers and databases, and the vendors deserve a bit more blame for these examples. Being a domain administrator is an important job requiring special training. Look at the IT Departments. They have teams of domain administrators who spend time learning and staying current with the skills required for this role. The idea that you can drop a domain controller into a SCADA network and not have at least two skilled domain administrators is asking for trouble. Sure you may get by, but you may also get by not understanding and performing maintenance on your physical assets in your plant. Vendors’ sales staffs new this but often avoided raising this issue because it was an impediment to the sale. Instead they deployed the domain controller, often in the default config, got the system working, and walked away leaving a ticking security time bomb.

The community needs to avoid falling into this second trap again with wireless LAN’s. Lured by cost savings, ease of use, and the promise that security is addressed, we may be avoiding thinking of the lifecycle consequences of this new technology.

  • What will you do when a new zero-day exploit is released for the wireless system you have selected? Turn it off until patched? Have security guards patrol all areas the signal reaches? ???
  • Do you have a workable plan to patch these systems without causing an unacceptable outage? Have you build enough redundancy into the system?
  • How will you verify that all your wireless access points are configured securely on an ongoing basis? Is there a centralized management application? Do you have adequate trained staff to manage this wireless network?
  • How will you monitor your wireless access points – – from a NERC CIP standpoint are not these wireless access points a gate at the electronic security perimeter?
  • What other lifecycle issues need to be addressed?

IT advances in the 90’s and this decade have significant benefits for control systems, but we need to make sure we consider, address and accept all the costs before falling into the trap again. Our clients can attest that I’m not a Luddite. Quite the contrary, I’m a technology enthusiast. But there is a reason why your IT Department is so large.]]>