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Blog / 6 min read

SCADA Risk Management: Protecting Critical Infrastructure

The Claroty Team
/ February 21st, 2024
For many critical infrastructure sectors, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are crucial in managing and optimizing complex industrial processes. They play a key role in improving efficiency, reducing downtime, and enhancing overall operational reliability.

What is SCADA Risk Management?

What are the Risks to SCADA?

The Recommended Journey to SCADA Risk Management 

For many critical infrastructure sectors, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems are crucial in managing and optimizing complex industrial processes. They play a key role in improving efficiency, reducing downtime, and enhancing overall operational reliability.  Due to the vital role they play in operations, many organizations have grown concerned with the cyber risks posed to these devices. That’s because legacy SCADA devices were not created with cybersecurity in mind, and have increasingly become connected to the internet. Additionally, traditional security tools are unsuitable for protecting operational technology (OT) environments, and if used, could cause disruptions to critical operations. 

With these challenges in mind, organizations are faced with a difficult question: How do we protect our SCADA devices, and the other cyber-physical systems (CPS) in our environment, from cyber risk? The answer to this question begins with establishing a strong risk management strategy. But first, we’d like to discuss the basics of where to begin. 

What is SCADA Risk Management? 

As described in-depth in our recent blog on industrial risk management, in any critical infrastructure organization, risk management refers to the process of identifying, assessing, prioritizing, managing, and monitoring risk to an organization’s CPS — including SCADA systems. Over the past decade, SCADA risk management has become more difficult to achieve as IT and OT converge and new attack vectors emerge. Although this convergence has brought about the promise of cost savings and resource efficiencies, it has also brought about its share of risks. Unfortunately, these risks may have severe impacts on critical infrastructure organizations including operational disruptions, physical damage, or worse, threats to public safety. Although it is impossible to truly eliminate many types of risk, organizations can implement the proper risk management strategies and apply risk controls to reduce the likelihood of risk in their critical environments. 

What are Risks to SCADA systems?

SCADA systems can face myriad of risks that may impact the security, reliability, and functionality of critical industrial processes. Some of the major risks include: 

  • Malware and Viruses: SCADA systems can be vulnerable to malware, including viruses, spyware, and ransomware, which may disrupt operations or manipulate systems behavior. 

  • Unauthorized Access: Many SCADA systems have poorly implemented or weak OT remote access controls in place, allowing threat actors to control or manipulate critical infrastructure.  

  • Supply Chain Risks: Vendors and third-party users require access to SCADA systems for maintenance and other purposes. If not managed properly, hackers can compromise SCADA components during the supply chain process and introduce vulnerabilities into the system.  

  • Regulatory Compliance Failures: Failure to comply with industry regulations and standards can result in both legal and regulatory consequences, as well as increased vulnerability to cyber threats. Making matters worse is the fact that compliance with industry regulations can be extremely complex, making it difficult for organizations to understand what is required of them and how to implement the necessary security measures.

Addressing these risks requires a comprehensive SCADA cybersecurity approach; that unfortunately, cannot be satisfied by traditional solutions or generalized approaches. In order to protect your critical assets from cyber risk, we have outlined a recommended approach to help you assess, prioritize, and remediate the most critical risks within your unique environment. 

The Recommended Journey to SCADA Risk Management 

An ideal SCADA risk management program is one that effectively and efficiently assesses, prioritizes, and reduces SCADA systems’ exposure to cyber risk. Starting such a program doesn’t happen overnight — it’s a journey. To get your organization started, we’ve provided our recommended journey to SCADA risk management, and some strategic considerations for optimizing that journey. 

1. Asset Discovery: Build Your Foundation for Risk Management

It’s nearly impossible to manage SCADA risk without visibility into all assets comprising your environment. Discovering those assets is a foundational first step in your journey to SCADA risk management. First, it is important to align with stakeholders on your current CPS visibility and cybersecurity objectives. By doing so, you can then define your goals for CPS visibility. Next, it is important to determine which asset discovery methods fulfill your visibility goals. Once decided, it is important to partner with a CPS security vendor that can support all of them.  

2. Risk Management: Take Control of Your Risk Ecosystem
Even though every CPS environment is unique, the majority of solutions offer few options when it comes to customizing how risk factors are weighted based on what matters most to an organization. Many cybersecurity software vendors develop a fixed risk calculation that cannot be configured or adjusted for how the enterprise would like to calculate risk. This reality makes it important for organizations to implement a risk management tool that accounts for an expanded range of factors that can increase risk, as well as compensating controls that can offset risk. By doing so, organizations just starting out with SCADA security can accurately assess their OT risk posture right away, and will be enabled to accelerate their journey to successful SCADA risk management. 

3. Risk Prioritization: Improve Your Cybersecurity Posture

Standard solutions and conventional wisdom tend to guide risk prioritization based on frameworks like the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), rather than on exploitation likelihood or potential impact. This prioritization method has led many organizations’ often-already overburdened personnel to expend resources prioritizing risks that are unlikely to ever occur. To combat this challenge, it is important for organizations to implement a tool that can automatically enrich and assign vulnerabilities to priority groups based on the latest current and predicted exploitability indicators from the Known Exploited Vulnerabilities (KEV) catalog and Exploit Prediction Scoring System (EPSS). This will allow organizations to more effectively, efficiently, and easily understand and prioritize the vulnerabilities that matter most to them. 

As SCADA systems become further interconnected and reliant on digital technologies, they become subject to a growing number of cyber risks. The evolving nature of these risks has emphasized the need for continuous improvement and adaptation when it comes to implementing strong SCADA risk management strategies. To begin, organizations should first gain an understanding of what assets are present in their environment. Once full-spectrum visibility is established, they can then take control of their risk environment and will ultimately be able to improve their cybersecurity posture with risk prioritization. As a reminder, this process is a continuous journey, and as cyber risk evolves, so will the strategies to protect your environment from emerging threats. 

To learn more about how your Claroty can support your SCADA risk management journey, request a demo.

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