How an Industrial Network can be Attacked: Vulnerabilities & Prevention

Instructor: Erik Rodriguez

Erik has experience working in Cybersecurity and has a Master's of Science in Information Systems.

In this lesson, we'll review some of the vulnerabilities that can be found in industrial networks and how they can be remedied to prevent cyber attacks. We'll also discuss the impact of successful exploitation of these vulnerabilities on industrial processes and society.

Prevention is Key

Chances are, your computer contains various security features that are designed to minimize or outright prevent a successful cyber attack. For instance, you may have a username and password that is used to access your computer. In many newer models, however, this has been replaced with the use of fingerprint or facial recognition scanning. You may also have antivirus software installed on your computer, and your home network may be properly configured to prevent unauthorized access. In a similar manner, in order to prevent cyber attacks, industrial networks should also be outfitted with security features. However, if not properly configured, hackers can exploit system vulnerabilities to launch success cyber attacks on industrial processes.

Industrial Networks Defined

An industrial network is a broad term encompassing the various interconnected systems used in industrial processes. Generally, industrial networks consist of components such as the control system and the SCADA DMZ. The control system is a collection of individual subsystems that work to automate many production processes. Examples of control systems include distributed control systems, SCADA, and safety instrumented systems. Used as a security blanket against cyber attacks, the SCADA DMZ is a buffer zone of firewalls and other networking hardware that is set between a SCADA system and the Internet.

Types of Vulnerabilities

Like many consumer electronics, industrial systems are susceptible to a bevy of vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to launch cyber attacks. Buffer overflows, weak user login credentials, and unauthenticated protocols are some of the vulnerabilities found in industrial networks, although there are many more. Each vulnerability is associated with different areas of the system, however, they can all cause system-wide damage should a threat actor exploit them.

Buffer Overflows

Buffer overflows are a type of vulnerability that is the result of defective programming in the source code of software. In computer programming, buffers are spaces of memory that hold a set amount of data temporarily. When there is a larger amount of data placed in the buffer than it was meant to, the excess data can then ''overflow'' into other buffers. This overflow can then adversely affect other data or system processes. To prevent buffer overflows from occurring, it is a best practice to include input validation in the source code of software that ensures that buffers only accept data they can properly store.

Buffer overflows result from a lack of input validation in software code
code

Weak Logins

Weak login credentials refers to subpar usernames and passwords that are used to access system resources. With weak login credentials, a malicious actor can use techniques such as social engineering to obtain a user's username and password, giving them unauthorized access to the network. In the case of social engineering, suppose a hacker is attempting to guess an executive's login and password. A quick Google search may bring up the executive's birthdate, hobbies, favorite sports team, etc. Since many people create passwords they can easily remember, odds are these details are used in the executive's login credentials. In creating robust password requirements and policies, cyber attacks stemming from weak login credentials can be prevented.

Weak usernames and passwords are a major vulnerability to industrial networks
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