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What is ICS Security?

What is ICS?

Industrial control system (ICS) security focuses on ensuring the security and safe function of industrial control systems. This includes the hardware and software the system and its operators use.

ICS usually refers to systems that manage and operate infrastructure-supporting functions like water, power, transportation, manufacturing, and other critical services. With the increased digitization of nearly all aspects of commercial and public business, these systems often depend on software, computers, endpoints, and networks—all of which have to be secured for the safety of the system, the people operating it, and those it serves.

How ICS Security Works

ICS security prioritizes the operation of machinery by ensuring the processes that support it are well-protected from cyber threats. The focus is on preventing incidents, but in some situations, when the safety of workers or the public is at risk after an event, employees may be able to call an ICS security number to get immediate assistance.

ICS security also makes sure ICS management is efficient. This may involve ensuring full visibility into the operation of machinery on the production floor from within a control room or center with a series of dashboards that report critical information.

ICS Security Definition: Why ICS Security Is Critical to Business Operations

What is ICS security in the context of ensuring the safety of people and systems? Industrial control systems security is, in some ways, more important than regular cybersecurity. This is because it helps maintain the physical safety of the people who work with and benefit from the systems it protects.

If your industrial control systems security is subpar, regular citizens can lose access to essential services. Also, employees manning the systems can get seriously hurt if industrial machinery malfunctions.

Because ICS security includes protecting the components necessary in the production of goods, securing your infrastructure keeps your operations alive and well, moving smoothly and efficiently.

How To Overcome ICS Security Challenges

ICS security threats can stem from:

  1. Core system components that are not available: To overcome this challenge, deploy an ICS security solution that targets the specific components that, if interrupted, may halt your operations or result in safety issues.
  2. Insecure protocols that may be old and outdated: For older systems with outdated protocols, consider each on a case-to-case basis. For example, in some cases, you may be able to deploy firewalls or physical security measures to fully segment an asset and prevent an intrusion. In other situations, you may have to transition to a completely new system—even if that means replacing an otherwise functional component.

Common ICS Threats

Years ago, the industrial process was powered by machines without computational capabilities. Therefore, they could not be impacted by remote hacks, interruptions to a network, or the exfiltration of data. However, in the current industrial landscape, there are several omnipresent threats.

External Threats and Targeted Attacks

Because industrial processes directly impact the health and quality of life of so many people, they are often the targets of terrorists, hacktivists, and others seeking to do harm.

This requires a defense-in-depth approach that shields crucial systems from those seeking to interrupt or stop key operations. Even a momentary interruption would be enough to impact the lives of thousands. The aim of an external individual or group may also be to exfiltrate data, steal intellectual property, or stop production to either gain a competitive advantage or cause harm to targeted groups.

Internal Threats

Because many ICS systems lack authentication measures that control who can access individual production components, when one person has been granted access, they may be able to impact many machines and systems all by themselves. This makes internal threats particularly problematic, namely because one person can do so much damage. 

With the introduction of malware to a software-dependent system, the entire production can be halted. Also, with access to an internal database, a thief has the potential to steal large amounts of data quickly and easily.

Human Error

Human error—such as configuring equipment improperly, programming machinery incorrectly, or overlooking alerts—can have a considerable effect on operations. Often, these kinds of errors may be the product of a well-meaning person filling in for someone with more experience in managing a machine or system. Their lack of experience results in a costly oversight.

Common ICS Threats

ICS Security Best Practices

  1. Restrict access to the critical areas of the system’s network and functionality. Firewalls can be used to form a barrier between the machinery and the organization’s network.
  2. Restrict those who do not need physical access from coming into contact with important ICS devices. This may include physical measures like guards or digital methods such as card readers.
  3. Apply security measures to individual elements of the ICS. To do this, you can block ports that are unused, install security patches, and implement least-privilege principles to ensure only those who need to access the system can.
  4. Protect data from being changed while it is being stored or transmitted.
  5. Use redundancy for the most important components of the ICS. In this way, if one fails, another can keep production online.
  6. Implement a plan to respond to incidents and enable a quick return to normal operations.

Security Standards

There are several security standards that are typically applied to ICS cybersecurity. These include the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-82, which was enacted by the U.S. Department of Commerce to help advance safe, effective practices in industrial settings. 

Also, the American National Standards Institute/International Society of Automation (ANSI/ISA) has issued the ANSI/ISA A99 standard. This body supports automated interfaces for enterprises managing their control systems.

How Fortinet Can Help?

The Fortinet industrial control systems/supervisory control and data acquisition (ICA/SCADA) solution protects a variety of industrial assets and systems. Protection is enabled by choosing the most effective tools for corporate IT infrastructures, covering everywhere from the data center to the network edge to the cloud.

The Fortinet solution focuses on protecting the industrial zone using tools such as FortiAP, FortiPresence, FortiSwitch, and FortiCamera. These tools provide visibility, control, and behavioral analytics to promote a safer, more efficient, and more secure production process. 

Visibility hinges on defining the various elements of the attack surface, as well as the data traveling to and from each area. Control is achieved through network segmentation and microsegmentation, as well as sandboxing, quarantining, and multi-factor authentication (MFA) methods to manage who has access to what and limit the impact of events. 

Behavioral analytics studies the patterns of users, computers, and networks to detect risk events. It also includes responding to events to limit or reverse their impact on the system.


What is ICS in security?

Industrial control system (ICS) security focuses on ensuring the security and safe function of industrial control systems. This includes the hardware and software the system and its operators use.

What is an ICS network?

An ICS network involves the connection of ICSs, allowing them to communicate with each other and work together to enhance security, efficiency, and safety.

What is ICS and SCADA?

ICS stands for industrial control systems, while SCADA stands for supervisory control and data acquisition. While ICS covers a variety of systems that support industrial production, SCADA is a subset of ICS that focuses on the networks and user interfaces that facilitate industrial systems.