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China Security IT News Technology

Utilities Racing To Secure Electric Grid 113

FreeMichael61 writes "In the latest episode of Spy vs. Spy, China rejects accusations it's hacking U.S. companies to steal IP or bring down the grid. But there's no doubt the grid can be hacked, CIO Journal's Steve Rosenbush and Rachael King report. Industrial control networks are supposed to be protected from the Internet by an air gap that, it turns out, is largely theoretical. Internal security is often lax, laptops and other devices are frequently moved between corporate networks and control networks, and some SCADA systems are still directly connected to the internet. What security standards actually exist are out of date and don't cover enough, and corporations often use questionable supply chains because they are cheaper."
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Utilities Racing To Secure Electric Grid

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  • by xiando ( 770382 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @08:11PM (#42950695) Homepage Journal
    Anyone with a web-server will tell you that they are seeing dozens of penetration attempts daily, even right now. I also see this on my home ADSL line. I'm not saying the government there is doing it, but I do know that there is no other country which is attacking everything everywhere this aggressively. I don't have any web pages in Chinese and I wonder if I would be better off just using one of those iptables -j DROP lists who list all IPs in China.
  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @08:20PM (#42950765)

    China benefits from a functional United States. So long as the benefits outweigh any prize that would remove them in the taking, Americans are fairly safe from Chinese attack.

  • by Beardo the Bearded ( 321478 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @08:38PM (#42950947)

    They aren't supposed to be online, no. What you have though is the desire to do remote monitoring. One of the SCADA systems I used had an email module so you could get an email when things got all fucked up. That's a super awesome feature to have on a mission critical device.

    "Hey, Beardo, it's Loader 1. Probably nothing to worry about, but sensors picked up a fluctuation in the output. Last time this happened the system crashed hard. Yeah, I know you're in a movie. Come check on meeee."

    Now if this was up to me, and I know it's not, I'd build that module with an optoelectronic relay so it can send messages but be physically incapable of receiving them. Of course that does limit the usefulness, I can't send back messages, but I could call the place and let the night crew know there's a problem (if they aren't already aware) and how to mediate it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @08:53PM (#42951119)

    1: Does china control their military any better than the USSR did?

    2: Mapping out US electrical utilities is a big deal because if you want to disable your opponents energy infrastructure you need to know where all the substations are at. Those are far more vulnerable than the power stations themselves.

    3: Also there are trade secrets to acquire as well as contracts. If you know who they do business with, and you can copy their technology, then you can sell to those companies and make buko bucks doing so.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @08:54PM (#42951121)

    The problem comes from the previous generation of smart meter addressing which included broadcast groups and whose keys were managed by the utilities via HSMs. The tech is solid, but when you are dealing with utilities whom have very little real sophistication on the IT side dealing with crypto technologies they don't understand, bad things can and will happen.

    Get access to the HSM at the provider, or the smart cards they've backed up keys onto, and you can forge a packet that will trigger a significant number of meters. All that could go away if we simply required truck rolls for turn-offs, but that is the most marketable aspect that drives adoption (that and turning on 8 confusing pricing tiers which they help shift the "blame" for a high bill from the utility charging more to the user who "chose to run that A/C during the hottest time of the day".


  • Re:Fuck off (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @09:06PM (#42951235)

    Half of these articles don't even hide the fact that they're written and promoted by people that are looking for government money to secure infrastructure. Often it's even infrastructure that they own and that they're responsible for. One such person is even named in the first sentence of this article.

    We're all in danger! Quick better make some new laws, imprison a few more people, and find a hero that can protect us!

  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @09:23PM (#42951375) Homepage Journal

    One of my clients is a large electric utility. Their security, both physical and for IT systems, is top notch. None of their SCADA systems are online, they do routine and regular audits of all security, and even 'trusted' people like myself have to jump through hoops to get into the Data Center, and are always escorted.

    They have really cool doors to get in too. They are like decontamination booths. You step into a vertical tube and wait to be cleared then the tube rotates and opens the other side.

    On the other hand, I've done work for other utilities where yes, the cleaning crew goes in through what amounts to an open door, without an escort.

  • by dave562 ( 969951 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @10:07PM (#42951733) Journal

    If the SCADA system is architected properly, remote monitoring is done via a Historian server that does not have the ability to affect the control systems.

    I helped setup a Honeywell system to run a power plant in central California. My job was to architect the network piece of it. The hardware itself was completely mirrored in a typical master / slave relationship so that if the master failed, the slave was completely synchronized and could pick up the load.

    There was a hardware firewall in between the production network and the Historian. The connection between the two was one way so that the it could report historical data for reporting purposes.

    The corporate network connected to the historian via an IPSEC/AES-256 VPN connection. The switch fabric was redundant and the firewall used dual-homed, active/passive connections to mitigate against the potential of a switch failure.

  • Simple solution... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Tuesday February 19, 2013 @10:36PM (#42951955)
    Change those systems from IP to ARCNET (or AppleTalk, or IPX, or ???).

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