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2003-04 Seminars

Do We Understand the Risks in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems?

Clyde Chiltister
Software Engineering Institute
Yacov Haimes
University of Virginia

Data collection, control, communication, and management, all of which are essential for the effective operation of large-scale infrastructures, are increasingly being performed by supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. These are complex communications systems, interactive between human and hardware/software components, and highly vulnerable to the threat of cyber-terrorism. Critical infrastructures, such as railways, water, electric power, oil and gas pipes, and telecommunications, are interdependent and interconnected. Thus, a terrorist intrusion into the SCADA system that controls, for example, a railway system, may be able to transmit malicious disinformation that can result in a major disruption and loss of lives and commerce.

This paper, addresses the risk-assessment process associated with SCADA systems. To fully explain the risk-assessment process, the basic configuration of SCADA systems is described, leading to their inherent vulnerabilities associated with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware components, communications, and human supervisory control, among others. The risk-assessment process is performed with Hierarchical Holographic Modeling (HHM) to systemically identify the myriad sources of risks. Three major sub-HHMs are identified: hardware and software of SCADA systems, human supervisory control associated with SCADA systems, and the environment within which SCADA systems function.