Thursday, February 18, 2016

Reports highlight cybersecurity risks at nuclear facilities around the world

Recent reports from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Chatham House, both find that nuclear facilities in many countries are “easy targets for cyberattacks.” Among problems cited in the reports are a significant nuclear presence, few government regulations, and inadequate or corrupt oversight of nuclear facilities.

The reports highlight important issues, but are disappointing in that they provide little insight into the raw data used to draw their conclusions. Both reports talk about regulations existing in some jurisdictions and not in others, and also cite cybersecurity elements of regulations in some jurisdictions, but not others, but provide no sources. References to the regulations examined by the authors would help everyone interested in a deeper understanding access those regulations to understand them better.

The reports do highlight an important fact – for all the talk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities, many of the older reactors in the world are still controlled with analog controls, and those controls are immune to digital cybersabotage/compromise attempts. Newer reactors though, use digital controls and so are of greater concern. And even those reactors with analog controls for the reactor core may use digital controls for other aspects of the reactors, such as controls for cooling equipment. It was after all, cooling equipment that was damaged in the Fukishima tsunami, and whose failure ultimately resulted in explosions and the release of large amounts of radioactive materials.

Cyberattack tools, like any other software, continue to evolve and develop more features. As a result, cybersecurity attacks only become more sophisticated over time. What is today’s “advanced attack” is tomorrow’s script-kiddie tool. Nuclear generators should be leading the way for both physical and cybersecurity for industrial control systems. All industrial sites should be looking to the attacks of concern to nuclear generators and the defensive systems being deployed to deflect such attacks. What is of concern today to only nuclear sites will be every ICS site’s problem in only a handful of years.

Physical and cybersecurity at nuclear sites is a difficult problem. At Waterfall Security Solutions, we are proud to be part of the cybersecurity solution at nuclear generators throughout the USA, as well as in Japan, South Korea and Spain. Waterfall’s Unidirectional Security Gateways block 100 percent of network attacks originating on external networks at nuclear generators in these and other jurisdictions.

For more information on best practices for securing critical infrastructure, visit our Resources page.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

January news roundup: Ukraine power grid cyberattack illuminates risk to critical infrastructure

It’s no surprise the cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid dominated industrial control system (ICS) cybersecurity news in January. Following the news of the power outages and subsequent discovery of malware and other signs of a purposeful network intrusion, cybersecurity experts, DHS and others have revealed alarming instances of cyberattacks, increasing vulnerabilities and lack of adequate cyberdefenses at industrial and nuclear sites, dams and other critical infrastructure. Perhaps the Ukraine attack is the wake up call the industry needs to escalate its investment in cybersecurity protections, such as Unidirectional Security Gateways. In the meantime, learn more in our roundup of these stories below.

With all security eyes on the Ukraine’s Prykarpattyaoblenergo utility, SANS ICS concluded hackers likely caused the outage by remotely switching breakers, after installing malware that prevented technicians from detecting the intrusion. The key takeaway is that malware may have enabled the attack, but it was hackers’ remote access to critical operational networks that resulted in the outage. 

While presenting at the S4x16 conference in Miami, Marty Edwards, head of the DHS ICS-CERT, cited increased Internet connectivity and associated vulnerabilities as the main reason behind the rise in cyberattacks on ICS networks. Others aren’t convinced, believing the recent Ukraine power grid attack has prompted authorities to look for signs of intrusion that may not necessarily be intentionally harmful events. From our perspective, any external intrusion – or even attempted intrusion – of ICSs is potentially harmful and should be taken seriously. Further, there is no doubt whatsoever that connecting critical infrastructure directly to the Internet or indirectly to Internet-accessible networks creates significant vulnerabilities.

According to a distressing report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 20 nations have no apparent government regulations requiring minimal protection of nuclear power plants or atomic stockpiles against cyberattacks. The U.S. and many other countries have adopted strong security postures including physical security measures, removable device controls, and Unidirectional Security Gateways. This is standard practice in many jurisdictions and is something that should become standard worldwide for nuclear facilities.

In this article, industry experts, Paul Feldman, director of Midcontinent ISO, and Dan Hill, board member for the New York ISO, explore the new threats to our power systems. They point out that cybercriminal sophistication has outpaced the resulting regulations and urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to establish industry regulations that reflect the current threat landscape. Hill and Feldman point out that adequate, modern ICS security is very different from doing the minimum to be in compliance and recommend the use of unidirectional security gateways to eliminate the threat of remote-control and other network attacks from business networks and from the Internet.

Rob Joyce, chief of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit, shook up the SCADA security community when he stated, “SCADA security is something that keeps me up at night.” Referring to the thousands of ICSs, such as power plants and other critical infrastructure, that are connected to the Internet without proper protections in place, Joyce singled out heating and cooling systems as examples that nation-state hackers can use to infiltrate control systems. He knows this to be true since these same systems are used as points of ingress by his own team. As alarming as this seems, it’s the reality we face as more and more industrial control systems are connected to the Internet.

To learn more about the risks facing industrial control security networks, visit our resources page.