Industrial control systems (ICS)


Industrial control system (ICS) is a broad term which describes different types of control systems and devices for industrial process control, including devices, systems, networks and controls that operate those industrial processes.

There are a couple of different types of ICSs and the most common ones used today are Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, Distributed Control Systems (DCS) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs).

Today, ICS is used in almost every industrial sector as well as critical infrastructures like transportation, energy, and water. Devices and control modules included in ICSs use several communications protocols designed for specific purposes, including process automation, power automation, and more.

Some of the main components of an ICS include information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems. The convergence of these two systems is a key for most modern ICSs, but also makes them an easier target for cyber attacks.

Another key component in ICS is the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), a hardware device that is commonly used in both DCS and SCADA systems as control component of the entire system and provides feedback from sensors and actuators.

Some other key components include Remote Terminal Unit (RTU), Control Loop, Human Machine Interface (HMI), Remote Diagnostic and Maintenance, Control Server, SCADA Server or Master Terminal Unit, Intelligent Electronic Device and Data Historian.

Courtesy of Trend Micro

ICS and growing attacks

Since ICSs are widely used and are quite important, it makes them susceptible to attacks, making ICS security one of the most important priorities.

According to the report from the US Department of Homeland Security and its National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, there were 245 attacks in the US alone, mostly focused on Energy and Critical Manufacturing sectors.

Most of these were focused on unauthorized access and exploitation of Internet-facing ICS/SCADA devices, exploitation of zero-day vulnerabilities in control devices and software, malware infections and SQL injection, network scanning and probing, and more.

ICS and future

ICSs are widely used and with a growing number of attacks, the security of ICS is becoming more and more important. With the rise of new technologies, like cloud computing, big data analytics, and the big growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the ICS, and its security has to evolve accordingly.

Plenty of security companies, like Symantec, are putting a lot of effort into ICS security, including the introduction of new analytics technologies and machine learning in order to make ICS network more secure and more aware of anomalies.


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Slobodan Simic is foremost an IT enthusiast who discovered his knack for writing, which lead to becoming both an IT journalist and later an Editor for a number of publications. He has been covering anything from the consumer- and professional-oriented hardware to software markets and networks. With a focus on chasing down leads, making sure that fresh content is ready for publishing, as well as keeping up with the evergrowing and evolving IT world, writing has become more of his passion rather than just a job.