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Establishing Security Zones & Conduits in Industrial Networks: Steps, Controls & Examples

Instructor: Giorgos-Nektarios Panayotidis

George-Nektarios has worked as a tutor and student consultant for five years and has a 4-year university degree in Applied Informatics.

In this lesson, we will look into the world of security zones and conduits within an industrial network. We will learn the steps to classify assets into specific zones and look at some examples of conduit control assets.

Zoning Out on Security Zones

When you occupy yourself with unambiguously understanding how to classify critical infrastructure assets in security zones, there is a non-negligible possibility that one will zone out, because the task is quite befuddling and ambiguous! Still, do not worry! There are some reliable and concrete guidelines one may cling to. The task of classifying assets into security zones may be a little bit like taking a walk into a street, looking at people passing by and peering into the shops and houses. It is probable enough that persons one sees can be classified into a specific category, such as road technicians, coffee shop retail employees, or, for a broader classification, simple passengers, customers, employees etc. Still, this is not always the case, as many people are sure to belong to altogether different categories from many standpoints. If one swaps random people on the street for critical infrastructure assets and an industrial network for the street, we are looking at the very problem that we will be delving into. Asset classification methods and steps will be analyzed and, lastly, conduit control assets will be named as examples.

Methods & Steps for Establishing Security Zones and Conduits

Establishing Security Zones

As was implied in the introduction of this lesson, the task of establishing security zones and conduits can become rather confusing. Moreover, there is not only one correct answer, when it comes to zoning of industrial networks. Still, there are certain methodologies which are valued for their approach to their problem. One of these methods includes the following steps:

  • Determining the roles of each industrial network asset (supervision, control, etc.)
  • Determining the level of trust that is required for each industrial network asset (for example, there are different user access privileges for an engineer within the network and for the respective operators)
  • Determining the technologies or technological security restrictions that need to be employed for each asset (HMI/SCADA for supervision, PLC for simple control operations, etc.)
  • Determining the physical proximity among industrial network assets

It would be ideal if all four elements outlined above coincided for each asset belonging to a specific security zone. However, in practice, this seems rarely to be the case, so one needs to look into what the most important criteria are. The consensus seems to be that the common operation/functionality and common level of trust, along with technological restrictions, are indispensable, and physical proximity is secondary.

Establishing Security Conduits

Security conduits are the points of information flow from and to each specific security zone. What is the bond among assets belonging to security zones, from a networking standpoint? They show some uniformity on a logical or physical level. On the other hand, security conduits imply the establishment of a communication channel which lies on the network level. Information flowing in and out of security zones is thus regulated in the conduits. To sum up, conduits are determined as channels of communication between neighboring security zones.

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