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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

aTTACK ON POWERGRID SCAda

The ISA website notes an ongoing project to develop ANSI/ISA security standards for SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems used to control industrial machinery including large chunks of the critical infrastructure (e.g. power plants, water treatment works). Many old-fashioned SCADA systems pre -date modern thinking on information security controls other than availability, perhaps: the reason old SCADA systems remain a problem is that many of them have continued running more or less unchanged for decades.  True information security requires a balance between confidentiality, integrity and availability.
What appears at first to be a simple news story about a systems overload caused by people downloading a large video looks somewhat odd on closer inspection.  It is reported that the systems concerned belonged to the British armed forces.  “Computer screens controlling British air defences and warplanes around the world are reported to have gone blank for five hours” says the London Evening Standard.  Um.  Well maybe. 
The BBC reported that two fake banking websites, only one of which was protected by a firewall, were put on the web as a honeypot to attract and monitor hacker attacks.  They were both attacked, of course.  Apparently, “more than a third of the attacks on the protected website were so severe that they crashed the site and could have resulted in the loss of data”.  [Call me a cynic but the fact that the ‘experiment’ was funded by an ISP and a security firm hardly inspire me with confidence in the validity of their scientific methods ...]
The US State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) for checking visa applications apparently taken out of service “by a virus” (actually the Welchia worm).  Malware could hit any of us but it would appear that contingency arrangements were simply not adequate to keep the service running or get it back in operation before the media picked up the news story.  Any problems caused by the unplanned service outage were compounded by the media interest.


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