Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Defending Control Systems against Cyber-Attacks

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Defending Control Systems against Cyber-Attacks

Article excerpt

A whole city blacks out, the traffic lights are down and public transportation is paralyzed--such a scenario caused by cyber-attacks on infrastructure was previously thought to occur only in movies and books. However, such concerns are becoming a reality, as seen in Iran, where a computer virus crippled the operation of nuclear facilities in 2010.

To prevent such attacks in Japan, the country's first cybersecurity testing facility exclusively for control systems opened last month.

Control systems integrate and manage equipment and machines at factories or other infrastructure. Information networks for such systems are increasingly connected to outside networks, making them more vulnerable to intruders.

End of security myth

Red lights flashed, piercing alarms sounded, and chemicals flooded out of tanks at a plant that had been hit by a cyber-attack--all part of a drill at testing facility of the Control System Security Center (CSSC) that opened May 28 in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture.

A mock chemical plant was used for the drill, under a scenario that a computer virus had intruded into the system and manipulated figures for controlling chemical levels.

"The security myth of control systems has crumbled. Those concerned should be aware of the danger," said Akio Sato, a chief researcher at Mitsubishi Research Institute, which serves as the secretariat of the CSSC.

The CSSC, which launched in March last year, is a technical and research organization comprising 19 companies and institutions, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and Hitachi, Ltd.

The Tagajo testing facility was built with a 2 billion yen subsidy from the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and has a floor space of about 2,000 square meters where mock plants were set up using seven different types of control systems, including those for electricity, gas and buildings.

The facility provides an environment where researchers and engineers can simulate taking countermeasures against cyber-attacks. The facility also holds training sessions for those who are interested and will be used to train personnel to respond quickly to an emergency.

"Most control systems used to be separated from outside networks, so they were not prone to becoming a target of cyber-attacks." Sato said. "However, it's becoming more common to connect control systems to outside networks for maintenance and production management," he added, holding a tablet computer for checking control systems for each mock plant. …

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