Cyber security issues grow with new plant control technologies

14 September 2011 23:17  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--New automated plant control systems can lead to greater chemical production efficiencies, but also can increase the risk of cyber attacks if they come without adequate security bulwarks, speakers at a trade event said on Wednesday.

Speaking at the Cheminnovations 2011 conference in Houston, Peter Zornio, chief strategic officer for plant automation technology provider Emerson Process Management, said new technologies have led to “previously impossible applications” in automated control systems, which in turn have sparked more cost-effective production.

Wireless computer technologies will help lead to the integration of now-disparate automated process control systems at plants during the next five years, Zornio said.

But the industry’s embrace of non-proprietary computer technology can pose risks, he added.

In the past, Zornio said, a proprietary technology system that was understood by relatively few people could provide a stronger security bulwark in comparison with more widely known non-proprietary systems.

Marty Edwards, director of control systems security for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said the advent of computer communications networks at chemical plants as well as “off-the-shelf”, non-proprietary computer technology in plant control systems has increased security concerns.

Even in cases where plant control computer systems are not networked, there is still a risk of cyber attacks or viruses, Edwards said. All it could take is a contractor at a plant to plug in a laptop computer to a non-networked system to potentially download a virus, he said, noting news reports that even the US Space Shuttle was twice hit with computer viruses.

He pointed to the importance of physical security measures under such circumstances.

Edwards said his office offers a variety of free computer security education and training programmes for companies, as well as boilerplate contract language for cyber security in plant control systems.

By: Brian Ford
+1 713 525 2653

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