29 January, 2007

Layer 3 – Networking - Continued

Continued From

ACL’s, Firewalls and the bottom capabilities of NIPS

If you have successfully divided your PCN subnet from the rest of you LAN’s you still have to have a way enforce that separation. Access Control Lists (ACL’s), Firewalls, and the bottom layer and capabilities of a NIPS provide a method of doing this. Note that I am not getting into ports yet. Next layer up.

At layer three they all function in a relatively similar manner and are close to being the same capability. Firewalls (and NIPS using firewalls) of any type are less likely to be susceptible to spoofing or man in the middle attacks from traffic that must traverse the PCN to the Business network but most routers and switches in the last few years have a pretty robust ACL capability. A firewall capable switch or router gives even more flexibility but isn’t always available. The real key here is how the networks are set up.

For smaller organizations a single division point and one network is all that is necessary.

In this environment you would have a PCN connected via a firewall to the business network. If the business network has access to the internet (which they all do) it is essential that that access is also protected by a firewall. This isn’t about protecting your business network so I will skip all of the details here but it is important to remember that if you have connections to your PCN then anything that compromises you business network also puts your PCN at increased risk. This means that a solid DMZ and extranet environment are important for the business network. I am writing all of the rest of this from the presumption that this is the case.

I have never seen an acceptable reason for a PLC to be directly accessible from the business networks so putting in a log any any, drop any any, (dump your logs to a syslog server) for PLC addresses should be the standard. If there is a need to directly access a PLC from a remote point (and there sometimes is) then use a VPN or some other secure authentication and communication method to facilitate the access. Terminate it on a separate subnet that has no direct external access and then route from there.

For larger companies and organizations there will be a need to provide multiple differentiated networks. Many organizations use a PCN DMZ (sometimes called a Process Information Network [PIN]) to house Historians and MES. By doing this you can granularly control access to actual control nodes while greatly simplifying secure access to data from the production nodes.

I have seen a lot of other distinctions

Utility Networks – used to house servers that pass patches, AV updates, software revisions and other utility software (be careful that it doesn’t just become the easy way around security)

ESD Network – Emergency Shutdown Network – Just like the name implies they house the systems used to shutdown in an emergency. Access is very tightly controlled often these systems are completely separated from others.

Critical Systems or Red Line Networks – For highly critical valves, pumps, breakers and gauges a critical systems network allows tight granular access and control of access for systems that may have safety or environmental significance or for systems that might have cascading failure modes.

Monitoring Network – A network where PLC’s or RTU’s are used only for monitoring functions and have no direct control capabilities. Because the risk of inadvertent operation is much lower a looser set of controls can be applied. You still must be careful that it isn’t used as a jumping point to other systems. You also have to be careful if it is used in an open loop control scenario where an operator is making control decisions based on the readings.

Legacy Network – used to separate legacy and unmanaged equipment from the rest. This is a very important network to consider. The fact of the matter is that for many automated control systems there will be hold over systems that have distinct security issues that might be better off separated from other systems.

Vendor Systems Separations – many vendors who have taken up the security hue and cry have started defining their systems within specific subneting requirements. In general this is a good thing because they can tightly control access and what traffic goes in and out based on their on hardware’s needs

Vendor PCN Extranet – An extranet subnet that houses servers to provide synchronization and control between divergent vendors OR (big OR not and) provide a controlled access drop off point for vendor access to systems for maintenance. I have seen both definitions used for the same term. If someone wants to come up with something better please do. I’ll float it and see if it catches on.

Partner PCN Extranet – Allows a controlled termination point for access either between operating partner networks or for external contractor controls either for troubleshooting or for actual operations.

Site PCN Extranet – Allows for the aggregation of information and data controls from multiple sites. It is distinguished from the PIN extranet in that actual control functions might be necessary such as on pipelines or long distance power transmission lines.

Site PIN Extranet – usually aids in the termination into a centralized control and operations center. Also provide a gathering point for production data into business systems in very large companies.


There are actually a few more but I am stopping now. The key here is keep it as simple as possible. If adding one of the network subdivisions I mentioned above helps make control of access to those systems simpler and doesn’t make the overall design too complicated then use it. If, on the other hand, you only have a few dozen PLC’s and a single historian then the simplest solution is best. One firewall and at most two control networks, a PIN and a PCN should be fine.

Same catch phrases as always for firewall or ACL configuration. Least rights needed for effective operation. Default at the end of the chain is deny any any and above that is specific permits for the traffic that is absolutely needed. If they don’t demonstrate a defined need to get to an address don’t permit it.

If you are on a more complicated network then the business network should access the PIN and vice verse and the PCN should access the PIN and vice verse but it should be designed such that the PCN never needs to access the business network or vice verse.

ESD and Redline Networks should be locked tight except during controlled change windows.

1 comment:

Jeremy & Tonya said...

Jim C,
I have some questions about the following statement you made, "Vendor Systems Separations – many vendors who have taken up the security hue and cry have started defining their systems within specific subneting requirements. In general this is a good thing because they can tightly control access and what traffic goes in and out based on their on hardware’s needs".

Please call me and leave your contact information so we can discuss.