SCADA cybersecurity best practices include: segmenting and encrypting networks; emphasizing cybersecurity in training; and implementing automated detection and response.
Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems play a crucial role in many industrial facilities. Whether wired or wireless, on-site or remote, these networks provide critical insight into and control over industrial equipment’s real-time operations. That criticality makes them all the more important to secure.
Why SCADA systems need robust cybersecurity
A cyberattack on a SCADA system could give threat actors control over critical infrastructure. The resulting damage could cut off power to an area, endanger employees near the equipment, disrupt supply chains or leave people vulnerable to physical threats.
Organizations relying on SCADA networks also tend to be among the most vulnerable. Manufacturing saw more cyberattacks than any other industry in 2022, and energy was the fourth most-attacked sector. As more critical infrastructure connects to SCADA frameworks, they may attract additional attention from nation-state-backed hackers, hacktivists or cyber terrorists.
If nothing else, SCADA attacks are expensive. These systems are complex, and their performance affects other high-end equipment. Consequently, companies may suffer massive losses if an attacker targets their SCADA systems.
SCADA security best practices
Given these risks, every organization using a SCADA network must implement robust cybersecurity measures. Here’s what that should entail.
Segment and encrypt networks
Network segmentation is the first step in SCADA security. While SCADA systems are interconnected by design, businesses should segment them so every device and program can only connect to what it needs to function properly. This segmentation contains attacks, ensuring a breach in one area won’t affect the entire organization.
As companies rethink their networks, they should encrypt all data communications. Just 22% of IT professionals say most of their sensitive cloud data is encrypted, leaving it vulnerable to malicious actors. Encrypting SCADA data won’t prevent attacks but will ensure leaked information is of little value.
Emphasize cybersecurity in training
Next, businesses must make cybersecurity training mandatory for any employee with SCADA access. Human error is common, and it only takes one mistake to let an attacker through an otherwise impenetrable defense.
This training should emphasize phishing threats and how to spot them. Phishing has remained the most prominent cybersecurity threat for years, and the only way to stop it is to teach people how not to fall for it. Strong password management and the importance of signing out after working with a SCADA system are other points to hit.
Tighten access controls
Along similar lines, organizations must restrict access to SCADA systems. Only employees who need to use these systems should have access to them.
It’s also important to recognize that access controls are only as effective as their accompanying authentication measures. A simple username and password combo is too easy to breach to be safe. Mulifactor authentication (MFA) significantly reduces unauthorized access risks even if someone has breached credentials, so it’s a must.
Implement automated detection and response
Even with these other controls, breaches are still possible. Organizations must deploy protections to minimize the damage during a SCADA attack. That means using automated detection and response tools.
Automated network monitoring can spot and contain potential breaches faster and more accurately than human analysts. These quick responses save $1.76 million on average, but only 28% of organizations use security AI extensively. SCADA security can’t afford to overlook that advantage.
Perform ongoing assessments
SCADA security must be an ongoing practice. These systems are too vulnerable and damaging if breached, and the threat landscape continually evolves. Regular security audits and penetration testing will help organizations stay on top of these changes and adjust their cybersecurity measures over time to keep safe.
These assessments should include creating and reviewing emergency response plans. Over 80% of U.S. companies have experienced a successful hack, so no organization can assume they’ll never fall victim to cyberattacks. Creating and rehearsing a response plan to minimize the damage is essential.
SCADA security is imperative in many industries
SCADA systems are mission-critical in several organizations. Many connect to and control critical infrastructure. In light of that importance, these networks demand robust security. Failure to secure them can lead to significant monetary and physical damage, even endangering human life in some cases.
These five best practices cover the baseline measures for any SCADA security system. Specific needs and methods may vary, but organizations that implement these steps thoroughly can keep their SCADA networks secure.
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