What is SCADA Security?

What is SCADA Security?

SCADA refers to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. It is a system that helps monitor the performance of different production facilities such as oil refineries, chemical plants, electric power grids etc. So, it has an important role in today’s infrastructure.

What is SCADA and how does it work?

A SCADA system is made up of three different types of software components: human-machine interface, supervisory control, and data acquisition (SCADA) server, and field devices. Each one plays a vital role in the operation of the entire system. Field devices monitor and control physical processes on a local level. 

By implementing security measures such as firewalls, antivirus software, anti-spam filters, remote access protocols (RDP), virtual private networks (VPN), or two-factor authentication we can prevent hackers from accessing our SCADA systems. SCADA systems are used in all types of industries from oil refineries to water treatment plants because they are more efficient than human operators.

With the growing world of cyber security, SCADA systems have become a huge target for hackers because they can create havoc on some of our most important infrastructures. For example, in December 2015 an attack was launched at Ukraine’s power grid which caused over 200 substations to go offline and left 230,000 people without power.

This is an example of how cyber security can impact the physical world, let’s take a look at what makes SCADA systems vulnerable to these types of attacks.

What Makes a SCADA System Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks?

There are many different types of vulnerabilities that can be exploited when it comes to cyber-attacks. Some of these include:

Insufficient Authentication and Access Control

In SCADA systems, there are many different components that communicate with each other. The level of access given to each component is determined by the system’s designer. So, there may be components that have more access than they require or even allow anonymous users to enter the system. This may make it difficult to monitor and control the access levels of all the different users on a system. Poorly designed authentication schemes make it easy for attackers to generate username/password combinations that have administrator-level privileges on a device.

Weak Security

Lack of protection against brute-force login attempts, such as an account lockout policy after a set number of failed logins or timeouts. This makes it easy for attackers to continue trying different password combinations until they get the right one. Having little-to-no protection against DDoS attacks, which can cause network congestion and make it difficult or even impossible to access the SCADA system.

Outdated software and firmware

Having outdated firmware on PLCs which can leave them open to cyberattacks that exploit vulnerabilities in the legacy code of the device. This includes both known security issues as well as unknown or unpatched vulnerabilities.

Insecure Network Protocols

SCADA systems use standard industrial protocols such as Modbus, DNP, OLE for Process Control Data Interchange (OPC), and others to communicate with PLCs or other devices. These can be exploited by attackers to gain access to the network, compromise other devices on the network, or disrupt communications. The less secure SCADA protocols are often vulnerable to spoofing, man in the middle attacks, replay attacks etc.

Unencrypted Communications

Some protocols used by SCADA systems are not encrypted, which can leave them open to eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks that capture data sent in cleartext.

Lack of Physical Security

Industrial control systems often do not have the same physical security controls in place to prevent attackers from gaining access and changing system configurations or using certain protocols. Physical security in SCADA means locking down PLCs and other devices in control rooms, limiting access to only authorized personnel with the right credentials.

SCADA Systems Advantages

  • They monitor and control industrial processes.
  • They operate in hazardous environments where human life is at risk.
  • They are not connected to the internet so their security level remains high.
  • They are used in all types of industries, not only critical infrastructures;
  • SCADA systems can be interconnected to form large networks that control complex processes.
  • They are robust, reliable, and secure.

SCADA Network Security Threats

Every business or organization that works with SCADA systems is vulnerable to SCADA security threats.

Employees can pose a threat to network security by opening malicious emails with infected attachments or inserting an infected USB drive into their computer.

Hackers can use spear-phishing schemes and social engineering tactics to gain access to the SCADA systems through employees’ computers.

Exploits in internet browsers such as Adobe Flash Player, Java Runtime Environment, or Microsoft Silverlight can also be used to access the SCADA system.

Hackers frequently use these types of exploits because many organizations don’t update their systems regularly which leaves them vulnerable.

Many people believe that cyber attacks cannot affect physical processes, but this is not always true. If attackers manage to shut down power grids or cause explosions at oil refineries they will be able to create significant damage.

The list of possible SCADA security threats goes on, but these are some of the most common. Implementing firewalls in SCADA networks is also a good idea, as well as separating them from other networks.

What is a SCADA attack?

A SCADA attack is an attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in the software of a control system. This type of cyber-attack can affect many different sectors, including critical infrastructures, transportation systems, and manufacturing plants.

SCADA attacks can be carried out remotely or by an insider threat, but the end result is always the same: causing physical damage on a large-scale level while also endangering human lives in critical infrastructures such as power plants, oil refineries, and transportation systems.

Attacks on SCADA systems take advantage of their lack of security protocols or outdated equipment that hasn’t been updated for a long time. They are difficult to detect because many times they appear like regular network traffic.

Many hackers are attracted to attacking SCADA because they can create real-world damage while leaving virtually no trace of their presence on the network. Industrial espionage is also considered a type of SCADA attack because it allows attackers to get hold of valuable information that could be used for economic gain.

How secure are SCADA systems?

In order to make sure SCADA systems are secure, organizations should take a number of precautions. The first thing they need to do is use modern software components that have been updated recently.

System administrators and IT professionals who work with these types of networks also need to ensure there aren’t any known vulnerabilities in the system’s security protocols. SCADA systems are secure until they are connected to the Internet and can be accessed by hackers.

Last but not least, organizations need to train their employees on security matters so they know how to spot an attack even if it appears as regular network traffic.

Vigilance is extremely important in this line of work because cyber-attacks don’t always give off obvious signs that they are occurring.

What is the difference between SCADA and industrial control systems (ICS)?

Industrial control systems are used for controlling large-scale processes in critical infrastructures such as power plants, oil refineries, water distribution stations, or nuclear reactors.

SCADA systems are used to monitor and control remote processes. They can be found in many different sectors, but the most common use for them is monitoring oil wells or chemical plants remotely. SCADA software generally communicates with PLCs (programmable logic controllers) which carry out actions inside of a process like opening valves or changing settings on an industrial machine.

SCADA and ICS systems can be interconnected or configured to work together in order to monitor and control remote processes that are located far away from the building where they’re hosted.

What is the difference between SCADA security threats & vulnerabilities?

A threat in Scada is an attack on the system. Another thing to remember about SCADA systems is that they can be interconnected or configured to work together with ICS (industrial control systems) if needed, but this cannot be done without proper security protocols and software updates

A vulnerability is a weakness that may be exploited by an attacker if they want to cause damage or carry out espionage activities.

Both threats and vulnerabilities are related to the system’s security protocols. If they don’t have any, it means they can be exploited by attackers. If they have outdated equipment or are connected to insecure networks, then that’s also an issue.

Why is it important to implement proper network security protocols on a SCADA system?

One of the most important reasons for implementing proper network security protocols on a SCADA system is to make sure they are protected from both internal and external threats.

Network administrators should also implement different types of protection such as firewalls, antivirus software, anti-spam filters, or remote access protocols (RDP). The best way to make sure your SCADA system is secure is to hire a third-party firm that specializes in critical infrastructure security.

How can we prevent attacks on SCADA systems?

Firewalls and virtual private networks (VPN) protocols are the best way to protect any network connection. Remote access software such as RDP needs additional authentication and authorization methods such as two-factor authentication or multi-level access protocols.

Hackers usually choose to attack SCADA systems that don’t have updated security software installed, so any additional software will come in handy. In addition to this, organizations should also consider hiring a third-party firm specializing in critical infrastructure protection.

What can be done in order to prevent hackers from attacking and exploiting vulnerabilities in a SCADA system?

There are several things that can be done in order to prevent hackers from attacking and exploiting vulnerabilities in a SCADA system. First of all, it is important for organizations to use modern software components.

If that is not possible, then they should at least make sure to use the latest security patches. Administrators should also consider hiring a third-party firm specializing in critical infrastructure protection.

How does an insider threat affect the overall security of a company that uses these systems?

An insider threat is a person within the organization who has access to sensitive information such as user credentials or financial data. This type of threat can be extremely dangerous because hackers will most likely use this information for malicious purposes in order to benefit from it financially. In addition, insiders might also choose to exploit vulnerabilities in SCADA systems and cause significant damage to the system itself.

What are some of the most common SCADA security vulnerabilities?

One of the most common SCADA security vulnerabilities involves hackers exploiting weak or even default passwords.

Data is transmitted over networks which can make it vulnerable to interception. Insecure communication protocols allow hackers to intercept network traffic which they can then decrypt in order to steal sensitive data from a system.

Why are SCADA systems considered to be more dangerous than regular IT infrastructures?

One of the reasons why they become so dangerous is because most critical infrastructure facilities use outdated software components. In addition, they also have a very limited number of security protocols in place. What’s more, most companies fail to hire specialized third-party firms that can help them with critical infrastructure protection.

Another reason which makes them even more vulnerable is that many of these systems don’t have additional authentication and authorization methods such as two-factor or multi-level access protocols.

What is the difference between a SCADA exploit and an Advanced Persistent Threat?

A SCADA exploit refers to hackers exploiting vulnerabilities within the system itself, whereas APTs usually refer to state-sponsored cyberattacks which are conducted by a third party. In addition, APTs usually target critical infrastructure systems in order to cause significant damage and disruption within the affected country or organization. A persistent threat can also refer to cybercriminals who are looking for financial gain, whereas some APTs can also target specific individuals.


It is very important for companies to have a firm understanding of what SCADA security means. For this reason, it is crucial that they use updated software components and implement additional authentication protocols if possible. The best way for organizations that use SCADA systems to protect themselves is by implementing proper network security protocols and updating their software regularly.

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