Thursday, April 9, 2009

24: Reality TV?

This following article was published in SecureState’s Winter Newsletter. With the recent story that broke regarding the international spies from Russia and China that hacked into the United States’ electrical grid (, this story has become more relevant. It has been something that SecureState has been preaching for quite some time… CIP is not strong enough…

Fox’s TV series 24 could very well become reality TV!

The reason is not that a simple device can be used to compromise our water, energy, transportation, etc. But because the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) standard is not to the level it needs to be to protect our most critical infrastructure.

The biggest problem with the CIP standard is that it may not even be possible to be CIP compliant! The biggest issue that the North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC) has with its CIP standard is that it does not deal with the issue of legacy systems. For NERC itself, the problem is that it will not force vendors to upgrade their systems to become compliant.

“Until vendors are forced to upgrade their products, there is not going much in the way of actual security,” says Matt Davis, Principal of Audit & Compliance at SecureState. “100% of these EMS and GMS systems that CIP deals with were designed to do one thing… and that is work!”

These systems that do not have the option of being upgraded are then pushed aside and not tested, therefore becoming exceptions to the standard. How good can a standard be if it is not testing all systems critical to the standard?

During several CIP engagements, SecureState found that most of the systems that are in scope of CIP have never been tested to the level that they needed to be. Nor could they stand up to simple tests including vulnerability scans. In fact, CIP does not even require penetration testing!!! - A test that is required by most standards including PCI.

CIP Audits

All organizations connected to the nation’s energy grid are to begin reporting their compliance and activities this January, with audits beginning January 1, 2010.

The audits are to be performed by the seven regional NERC operators scattered throughout the country. This poses the question of how strict each individual operator will audit the organizations in their region. This could cause some heat if one group realizes they got dinged on something another organization with the same system got away with. And you can bet they are going to share and compare report cards.

“You have to wonder how much these operators are going to let slide during these audits. Is the fact that there are certain systems that cannot be upgraded going to make exception the rule? We will have to wait and see,” said Matt Davis, Partner at SecureState.

CIP Importance

The importance of the CIP Standard goes far beyond any other security regulation that there is currently in place. But CIP isn’t even as tough as PCI, for example. The net result is that there is better security in restaurants than what goes into the grid.

“PCI, SOX, GLBA, HIPAA… they all have their place in protecting the United States,” said SecureState Senior Consultant Jason Leuenberger. “But if the power goes out… those standards become obsolete!”

And the importance stretches beyond just losing a modern convenience. Because a failure in the country’s energy grid, means a weakness in the country’s security!

By Matt Franko

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