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What is SCADA and SCADA System?

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is an architecture that enables industrial organizations to manage, monitor, and control processes, machines, and plants.

SCADA systems use computers, networks, and graphical human-machine interfaces (HMIs) to provide high-level control, management, and supervision of industrial processes. SCADA networks are crucial to industrial operations but are made up of hardware and software that can easily fall prey to hacking, which makes SCADA security increasingly important.

To define SCADA, it is an industrial control system (ICS) that monitors and controls infrastructure processes. SCADA systems communicate and interact with devices and industrial equipment as part of control systems engineering processes. They gather data, record and log it, and present information through HMIs.

SCADA systems are typically deployed by organizations involved in the provision of electricity, natural gas, waste control, water, and other necessary utility services. SCADA networks are therefore highly valuable but also highly vulnerable. The government agencies and private companies responsible for managing these services must ensure SCADA security is in place to protect them. 

Core Functions of SCADA

A SCADA is a system of hardware and software components. The hardware is responsible for gathering and feeding data into a computer with SCADA software installed on it. The computer processes the data, then records and logs events into a file stored on a hard disk or sends it to a printer. A SCADA application will also issue a warning or sound an alarm when conditions become dangerous or hazardous.

SCADA enables industrial organizations to control industrial processes; gather, monitor, and process data in real time; interact with critical devices like motors, pumps, sensors, and valves; and record events in log files.

SCADA solutions are essential to many industries as they enable organizations to ensure efficiency, make smarter decisions, and eliminate the risk of downtime.

 

SCADA Solutions

Automated Control of Industrial Processes and Machines

Most of the control actions with a SCADA system are performed automatically by the system’s remote terminal units (RTUs) or programmable logic controllers (PLCs). 

SCADA systems enable organizations to automate control of the industrial process and machines, which would be too complicated or complex for humans to manage manually. Systems use measuring devices and sensors to automatically detect alarms and abnormal behavior and provide a response through a programmed control function. 

For example, if an alarm occurred as a result of too much pressure occurring in an industrial line, then the SCADA system would issue a response to open a valve and restore regular pressure levels.

Data Collection and Analysis

SCADA is often used as a term defining data collection, analysis, and presentation. A SCADA system takes analog data and presents it in graphs. It also collects digital data, which may have alarms that can be triggered, and accumulates pulse data, which typically involves counting the revolutions of a meter.

These data collection and analysis processes help SCADA control the infrastructure processes of critical facilities and utilities. However, SCADA typically coordinates processes in real time, as opposed to controlling them in real time.

System Monitoring

SCADA systems can be used to monitor industrial equipment, machines, systems, or buildings, such as power plants. This process can either be automatic or can be initiated through operator commands.

Event and Alarm Notifications

Most SCADA systems include an alarm supervision and management feature that supports the software within the system. It is important for this to be configured to either be managed by the SCADA system itself or be triggered by users. 

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SCADA systems integrate with measuring devices like sensors across industrial and manufacturing organizations’ infrastructure. It collects data in either analog or digital form, then sends it to RTUs or PLCs so it can be translated into actionable and usable information. This information is then sent to an HMI or other displays that enable operators to analyze and interact with the data. 

Main Components of SCADA

SCADA systems are comprised of multiple components, hardware, and software that enable the collection and transmission of data necessary to control and monitor industrial processes. These key components include:

Remote Terminal Units (RTUs)

RTUs collect and store information from sensors then send it to the master terminal unit (MTU), which is composed of a computer, PLC, and a network server that forms the core of a SCADA system. An RTU collects and stores data until it receives the appropriate command from the MTU, then transmits the necessary data. The MTU is then able to communicate with operators and share data with other systems. 

Human-Machine Interface (HMI) SCADA

An HMI is a user interface or dashboard that enables a person to connect to a device, machine, or system. This enables operators to monitor machine input and output, oversee their key performance indicators (KPIs), track production time and trends, and visually display data across the SCADA system.

HMIs are used by the vast majority of industrial organizations to interact with machines and optimize their processes. They can take the form of computer monitors, tablets, and screens built onto machines, which provide insight into the performance and progress of the mechanical system. For example, an operator on the floor level of an industrial plant could use an HMI to control and monitor the temperature of a water tank or monitor the performance of a pump within the facility.

Communications Network

The communications network is the connection between the RTU and the MTU, which enables data to be transmitted between the two units. This wireless communication channel is bidirectional and used for networking purposes alongside other communication processes and equipment, such as fiber optic cables and twisted pair cables.

Inputs

SCADA systems rely on inputs that are read and written by a PLC to log and store data. What is a PLC, you may ask. It is a mini computer that sits within a SCADA network and collects inputs and outputs from devices in the system. The PLC monitors the state of inputs, such as the speed and performance of a motor, then uses this insight to output signals to devices, such as stop or slow down the motor.

Industries that Widely Use SCADA Systems

SCADA systems control and monitor industrial processes and machines across a wide range of industries. These include:

Food and Beverage Processing

SCADA systems are crucial to helping food and beverage processing companies improve their production quality and quantity processes. SCADA also ensures they reduce costs and keep wastage to a minimum.

Pharmaceutical/Biotech

Pharmaceutical and biotech firms use SCADA systems to ensure equipment works at an optimal level and to reduce maintenance costs. They also rely on SCADA to maximize their production processes.

Water/Wastewater Management

Water management firms use SCADA systems to ensure their plants operate efficiently and to monitor the performance of storage tanks, pump stations, treatment facilities, and other equipment. SCADA is crucial to preventing cyberattacks and ensuring appropriate safety measures remain in place at water treatment plants.

HVAC and Commercial Building Management

SCADA systems are crucial to regulating the performance of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, as well as the lighting and input systems at commercial buildings.

Energy Pipelines and Utilities

The operations of most energy pipelines are automated, but manual intervention can be required. SCADA systems provide the monitoring and alarm processes that allow energy firms to intervene should the plant’s activity deviate from normal. SCADA systems also help utility firms ensure reliability and continuous performance monitoring to minimize human error.

Seafood Processing

SCADA systems enable seafood processing firms to improve consistency and guarantee the quality and yield of their product. It also helps maximize machine performance in factories to reduce costs.

Sorting and Fulfillment

Sorting firms can monitor and control the performance of their machines using SCADA. This ensures mistakes do not occur and that machines are performing to a high standard.

Energy Management and Refrigeration

SCADA systems enable energy management firms to detect machine performance, monitor circuit operations, and manage availability. Through SCADA, they can see real-time parameters, monitor alarms and trends, generate reports, and keep costs down.

What Is SCADA Security?

SCADA security protects SCADA networks and prevents vulnerabilities from being exploited by cyber criminals. SCADA networks are used to control and monitor vital systems and infrastructure, so SCADA security is crucial to safeguarding these services.

However, some of these networks are particularly vulnerable to attacks by hackers, insider threats, and even terrorists. For example, ICS firm Schneider Electric was attacked by sophisticated hackers who launched a targeted zero-day attack on Schneider's systems in 2018. The attack used a remote access Trojan, the first of its kind to infect safety-instrumented systems equipment, which is crucial to monitoring utility firms’ critical systems. The firm released a firmware update and issued advice and tools for customers to detect and mitigate the attack.

Common weaknesses in SCADA systems include a lack of security around application development, issues with SCADA systems monitoring, and a lack of maintenance or updates to the software, thus creating security gaps. Another key threat to SCADA systems is a lack of security training for employees, who need to understand the potential threats they face and how to spot a potential cyberattack.

Avoiding potential security issues is reliant on documenting and mapping where systems connect to the internet and other internal networks and the people who have access to them. This provides insight into all potential data entry and exit points, which helps organizations monitor for cyberattacks. 

Organizations also need to implement appropriate detection and monitoring systems that can prevent attacks and malware injection. They also must ensure procedures are in place around network security, including report monitoring, standard protocols, and security checks, which will help them address new and existing vulnerabilities.

Fortinet SCADA Solution

Fortinet provides protection of critical infrastructure for defense, energy, food, manufacturing, and transportation firms with our ICS/SCADA solution. Fortinet designs security for complex infrastructure through the Fortinet Security Fabric, which provides organizations with an efficient method for protecting their operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) environments.

The Fortinet solution integrates OT solutions with threat protection, which provides control, visibility, and automated high-speed detection of potential security risks. It also reduces the complexity and operating expense of OT security.