What is ICS SCADA Security?

In order to understand what ICS SCADA is, it helps to first know about the differentiation between OT is. OT stands for Operational Technology and is made up of computing systems that are utilized in industrial operations. These can include the following examples:

  • Oil and gas monitoring
  • Mining operations control
  • Production line management

ICS stands for Industrial Control Systems. It’s all about the control and monitoring of industrial processes and is a huge part of the operational technology sector. An example of a process can be that of the power consumption of electricity grids. Typically, an ICS is either a discrete process control system (DPCS), or a continuous process control system. For a DPCS, a batch control device may be utilized. On the other hand, a continuous process control system tends to be managed using a PLC, which is a programmable logic controller.

So, what is an ICS SCADA? An industrial control system, under any circumstances, is run by a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. What makes this particularly effective is that the ICS SCADA provides a graphical user interface that ensures that users can:

  • Easily view and interpret the status of the system at any time,
  • Receive any alarms that may indicate an out-of-band operation, and
  • Make manual adjustments to the system in order to manage a process under control. An example of this is if a particular temperature is too high, the user can turn down the thermostat.

Typically, the SCADA unit will be linked to a central control unit, that is essentially linked to various remote terminal units. These remote terminal units are to be located close to the actual process being managed. It will monitor what is happening and can be placed either close by or very far away.

There is so much terminology that gets banded around in industrial control, that it can seem like a literal minefield of abbreviations. That leads us back to the key question… What’s the difference between ICS and SCADA. There is usually some confusion between what is the difference between an ICS system and a SCADA system. Scada tends to refer to a control system that spans a wide geographical area, such as a water distribution system. The difference is that a SCADA is a subset of the ICS.

Interestingly, if we look back through the history of SCADA architecture, there have been four generations in its evolution:

  • First generation – known as monolithic was when we merely had large minicomputers to work with.
  • Second generation – known as distributed was when we could ensure that information and command processing could be distributed across multiple stations via a LAN.
  • Third generation – known as networked enhanced the function, by using more than one LAN network, called a PCN (process control network)
  • Fourth generation – known as internet of things, evolved after the development and availability of cloud computing. The adoption of Internet of things technology has significantly enhanced the function of SCADA systems and reduced the infrastructure costs while improving maintenance tasks.