First Aid for Process Security

Viruses and Cyber Attacks ARE Looming. Help From Governments and Standards Is Lacking. Some Engineers and Managers Are Fighting Back to Protect Their Applications and Companies. Here's How They Do It

By Jim Montague

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Security Similar to Safety

To increase security awareness and compliance, many process organizations report that it helps their staffs to think about security in the same ways they think about process safety. Some internal security teams use business-type risk assessment (RA) matrices (RAM) based on probability and severity of incidents that are already widely used in their safety efforts. This can help production managers learn that security vulnerabilities can be equivalent in impact to the downtime caused by an over-pressurized valve fire or other accident. So the next time someone brings an unfamiliar laptop into their facility, they'll stop and think, question if it might have a virus and get it checked out.

"Process security is really the second coming of safety," says Rick Kaun, global business manager for industrial cybersecurity at Honeywell Process Solutions ( "But, like safety, there's no point at which you're completely secure. It's a constant lifecycle of reviewing, revising and refreshing the three main pillars of process security—technologies and services, policies and procedures, and people. For example, I helped assess a refinery a few years ago, and we found 57 security concerns, and they fixed most of them. However, when we went back two years ago, we found 53 more items, but they were mostly unsophisticated issues. So we'll go back next year, and see what's up."

Likewise, Suncor Energy Inc. ( in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, reports that its recent Process Control Network/IT Security Project involved updating its security design, security maintenance and asset configuration management capabilities in its oil sands extraction, upgrading and support facilities. The firm's PCN security maintenance program included improving its testing environment, anti-virus and patch management tools, password and authentication management, security hardening guidelines, and health and security status monitoring.

"Making the case for improving cybersecurity in our budget meant better understanding the importance of our assets and what the lack of protection and security could do to them," says Cliff Pedersen, PE, Suncor's product production processes manager. "We calculated the cost of an unplanned outage if our networks were left as is, and the likely cost was several million dollars. A project of this nature, which spends money, but doesn't ‘make more oil' is difficult to sell. For a process security project to succeed, you need to illustrate the true impact of what you're doing and show the consequences of not doing it."

Brad Hegrat, principal security consultant at Rockwell Automation (, adds that, "A basic RA involves inventorying an application's components, categorizing them, rating their criticality, assigning risk profiles and addressing those risks by mitigation, transfer, acceptance and avoidance. It's also crucial to do a comprehensive gap analysis of how a facility's staff sees its security role, what polices are already in place, and then assess technical needs." Besides continually updating passwords, firewalls and patching policies, Hegrat also stresses that users should put PLCs in "run mode," so they won't accept edited changes to their existing configuration or programming.

Security at Salt River

Similar to most multi-regional power plants, Salt River Project's ( Navajo Generation Station (NGS) in Page, Ariz., always had security practices to prevent unauthorized access to its controls and backup policies for any incidents that might occur. And as PCs and software emerged and moved onto the plant floor, SRP kept its control network separated from its IT and business network.

NGS is a coal-fired plant that routinely produces about 2250 megawatts in its three 750-megwatt units and is projected to maintain a typical uptime of 92.5% over the next 10 years. The plant burns low-sulfur, bituminous coal, and its power goes to customers in Arizona, Nevada and California and also drives water pumps throughout the Central Arizona Project.

"However, a few years ago, our plant management saw the writing on the wall that NERC-CIP would eventually designate our plant as a critical asset, and they told us to begin looking towards complying with NERC-CIP Version 3," says Mike Hull, supervisor in NGS's computer control group. "So we put together an SRP security team and drafted a best practices document, so we could move in the right direction, establish a security baseline for all of SRP and have consistency across our organization about back-up strategies, patch management and physical and electronic access control."

Basically, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. ( and its Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) program are requiring electricity producers to draft and implement security policies for their facilities that comply with its NERC-CIP standards. However, even though its security efforts are further along than other industries, critics claim that NERC-CIP allows utilities to define too many assets as non-critical and thereby avoid securing them.   

Second Firewall, Second Network

Hull reports that SRP's and NGS's recipe for security began with identifying all its critical assets and their vulnerabilities and implementing indicated security devices, services and a layered infrastructure needed to protect them. The team found and documented about 3000 applicable assets. "However, this first part of updating technology is the easy part because next we have to do a performance baseline; make sure we're designing our security system and roadmap so it can be rolled into NERC-CIP compliance; and address any new vulnerabilities that show up. For example, NERC-CIP says to define an electronic perimeter and access points and decide what goes on either side. So even though we recently put firewalls around our corporate network, in late 2010, we put a second set of firewalls around our controls network. This was done so we would have defense-in-depth, or multi layers of security, so the plant-level could only push data out to the business side, but not accept any coming back in."

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