The role of SCADA in securing our critical infrastructure

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upervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are critical to the safe, reliable and efficient operation of many essential services that affect the daily lives of millions of North Americans. These services include power generation plants, potable water systems, wastewater treatment facilities, oil and gas production and transportation/distribution networks. System size and complexity can range anywhere from a few remote sites, with a handful of parameters, to several hundreds of sites comprising thousands of measurement and control parameters.

By monitoring and controlling remote equipment and resources such as pumps, valves, tanks, wells and pipelines; and collecting and analyzing sensitive data such as production parameters, consumption and distribution schemes; SCADA systems provide greater efficiency, in terms of faster and more coordinated system control, than human operation; as well as lower operational costs and better use of scarce human and financial resources.

Since most utilities operate with budget restraints and limited personnel, keeping an eye on remote equipment and resources is challenging. However, modern SCADA systems can significantly extend the ability to secure remote assets and provide the tools necessary to mitigate current and future risks. Increasing the security of critical services by utilizing existing infrastructure such as SCADA systems is an attractive proposition from the value perspective. As most utilities have already invested in building their SCADA systems, coupling them with strong physical and cyber security measures is a natural progression. Conducting routine self-assessments and scenario planning can help utilities identify security risks and develop counter measures before incidents occur.