Nitro Zeus Fact Check and Big Picture

Documentary film makers have uncovered plans for an extended cyber attack against Iran, code-named Nitro Zeus. While I appear in the movie, I haven’t seen it yet and base the following on the reporting in the New York Times. Read more »



Asset owners see cyber security as the biggest challenge of the Industrial Internet

If you follow the media coverage of the Industrial Internet (of Things), you may already have realized that reporters and vendors alike have become a bit angry about the slow adoption of the concept and its associated products and services. Why are plant managers slow to jump on a bandwagon that promises breakthrough grows in productivity and revenue, and threatens doom if you don’t? A recent survey among asset owners provides answers.

Read more »



What is the Value of Assessing OT Networks?

Carnac the Magnificent

Carnac the Magnificent was a character played by Johnny Carson on late night television. He had mystic powers that allowed him to know the answers to questions he had not seen. He would proclaim the answer and then open the envelope, wherein he would find the question. Cyber security assessments seem to be like this. In other words, with some statistical shoring, Carnac the Magnificent could probably divine the current cyber security posture of your operational technology (OT) environment. He could choose from the following list and be right more often than the local fortune teller:


  1. Your asset inventory is subpar
  2. Your network diagrams are incomplete and/or outdated
  3. Your firewalls are misconfigured
  4. Your network is not properly architected
  5. You have access control issues
  6. There is unmonitored Web browsing from the control network
  7. Etc., etc., etc.


An assessment does indeed provide a “to-do” list and may provide some leverage in the next budget cycle. You may even be required by regulation to have a third-party perform an assessment for you. In any case, don’t lose sight of the true objective. The true objective is to determine the root cause of these symptoms and deal with the disease directly rather than with symptoms after the fact.


In many instances, the major root cause is the lack of a dedicated OT security program. Obviously, you can (and many do) just point to a document on the shelf and say you have a program. However, an effective program is backed by adequate organizational resources (dedicated budget, empowerment, accountability) and a robust governance process with comprehensive reporting. This is what is typically found on the IT side of the equation, but OT remains the proverbial “blind spot.”


There are different levels of rigor to OT cyber security assessments and you may not be ready (i.e., your management may not be ready) for a full-blown in depth walk-down assessment. You may have to start with a smaller scoped effort. To help get you started, The Langner Group has developed a self-assessment tool based on our RIPE framework which is being used in sectors from nuclear to water. The tool is call RIPE Self-Assessment Tool (RSAT) and there is no cost or obligation to use it.


Tool link: RIPE Self-Assessment Tool (RSAT)


So, by all means, get that assessment done, but take a larger view of the findings. Like Carnac the Magnificent, you may already know the answer, but look beyond the answers to find the question: what is the root cause of all these symptoms? As a person responsible for the health of your company’s revenue generating processes, you owe it to yourself and management to make the case to cure the disease.




The Langner Group sponsors S4

The Langner Group sponsors the SCADA Security Scientific Symposium, or S4 for short, which is being held by Digital Bond in Miami from Jan 12-15 2016.

S4 emerged as the primary ICS security conference over the last couple of years, and it is no surprise that Ralph has attended every single conference since 2007 when S4 was introduced. The only other person to attend all S4 conferences — except Dale Peterson himself – is Zach Tudor who now, to our great honour, is a member of the RIPE SME Advisory Board which independently reviews and validates RIPE instruments.

Ralph presented at S4 four times. His Stuxnet Deep Dive was judged by Dale as the quintessential S4 talk. The talk was also filmed by CBS’ 60 Minutes and appears in their episode on Stuxnet, moderated by Steve Kroft.

At S4x16 we will present the myRIPE Operations Technology Management System, which is, in a nutshell, RIPE put into a user-friendly, high-powered software package.

Don’t miss the action in Miami in January — and, if you have visited previous S4 conferences… don’t forget to thank Ralph for eight long years of tedious work of convincing Dale to move the whole show to SoBe, avoiding boring bus shuttles.



Two more nuclear facilities sign up for RIPE

Two more nuclear facilities are introducing the RIPE OT Security and Robustness Program to address cyber security in a sustainable and measurable manner, and to comply with tightened regulation at the same time.

Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant

The Olkiluoto nuclear power plant, operated by TVO, consists of three units. Unit 1 and 2 produce 860 MW power each and are operational since 1979 and 1982. Unit 3 is in the construction phase and is scheduled to go on the grid in 2018, delivering additional 1600 MW electrical power.

Since the Loviisa nuclear power plant, operated by Fortum, is already covered under RIPE, the recent deal means that the whole nuclear power production of one country (Finland) is now protected against cyber threats by The Langner Group’s RIPE program.

Posiva Spent Fuel Storage Facility

The other facility now covered by RIPE is the Finnish spent fuel storage, operated by Posiva. We believe this development is particularly important because Finland is one of the first countries to extend cyber security regulation to the fuel cycle, thereby underlining its globally leading position in nuclear cyber security.




The equilibrium of cyber conflict: In memoriam John Nash (1928-2015)

This weekend, Nobel laureate John Nash died in a car accident. If there is any theory I could think of that could explain what we’re seeing in international cyber conflict, I believe it’s his theory of non-cooperative games, especially the “Nash equilibrium”. The theory is the centerpiece of Nash’s 30 page inaugural dissertation from 1950, simply titled non-cooperative games.

The Nash equilibrium basically expresses that adversaries may arrive at a choice of strategy that minimizes their mutual losses, thereby reaching a stable state. Read more »



Historical Document: Towards a Cyber Security Governance Framework for Industrial Control Systems

In 2013 Ralph wrote this brief ten point manifesto that became one of the foundational pieces of the RIPE OT Security and Robustness Program. Two years later, it still looks pretty accurate.


  1. By addressing the problem of critical infrastructure cyber insecurity with security concepts and appliances borrowed from IT, we have tried to cure the symptoms rather than the disease.
  2. We have been poking around in largely undocumented digital environments guided by fuzzy threat intelligence, and applied band-aids (a.k.a. security controls) as the remedy of choice. However, a threat-driven approach to critical infrastructure cyber security is like wagging the dog. Being reactive by default, it fails to address the prevalent problem of systems that are insecure by design rather than because of software defects that would just needed to be “patched”, or hidden behind a firewall.
  3. We have been focusing on determining appropriate target security levels for individual plants rather than on establishing the means to reliably maintain any given security level regardless of criticality or industry. We have taken cyber security capability for granted without ever bothering to understand its characteristics and requirements.
  4. The design, configuration, operation and maintenance of industrial control systems in any reasonably secure manner requires a governance process. In absence of such a governance process, the security or insecurity of ICS applications and environments will always be subject to non-controllable external forces such as new vulnerabilities, new contractors who violate policy, or new threats, resulting in a constant decay of cyber security.
  5. The governance process is not threat-driven. It is a proactive and continuous activity based on the understanding that a non-governed cyber environment is insecure by default. Today, non-governed cyber environments are the norm in ICS installations. The popular excuse is that environments have “grown organically” (which is actually not an excuse but just stating a fact). However they will continue to “grow” until restricted by governance.
  6. The two major areas of the governance process are asset and configuration management (on the technology side), and workforce and supply chain management (on the people and procedures side).
  7. The foundation of the governance process is a verifiable cyber system and process model. Such a model can be created and maintained easily because system complexity is very low compared to IT environments, and most control system installations are extremely static. Creating a system and process model for an existing installation may require sweat, but it is anything but an intellectual or technological challenge.
  8. The governance process is identical for all industries. The basic activities of the governance process can be standardized in form of templates and can be audited in order to establish compliance.
  9. The task of setting appropriate target security levels can be isolated from the governance process as such. Setting target security levels may be based on the concept of risk, or may be based on alternative, policy-driven concepts.
  10. Based on a cyber security governance framework, templates can be extended and fine-tuned to measure and achieve sector-specific and application-specific performance targets. A framework of standardized templates and performance indicators also offers the opportunity for meaningful information sharing and benchmarking.



Threat, Uncertainty and Doubt

The staff at the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) Passcode just published an article titled: Quest for Knowledge and there was one sentence that caught my eye: “Instead, there’s a growing sentiment in the industry that knowing as much as possible about the attackers – and how they strike – is the key to good defense.”

There is no suggestion that the folks down at the CSM got it wrong in the way they characterized the industry trend. I am suggesting that those who follow threat’s siren song may end up with their hopes dashed against the rocks.

I am not dismissing the value of threat intelligence or suggesting it does not help to know more about your attacker. And, based on the sheer number of threat reports coming out, it is easy to see how one might reach the conclusion that threat intelligence is the latest bandwagon that must be jumped on. Taking a contrarian position I would say that knowing as much as possible about the threat is not the key. It may be nice to know or it may give a sense of being on top of the situation, but it never has been and it never will be the key to a good defense (at least for ICS environments). Read more »



The different levels of cyber security governance

0. Anything goes

No policies, no procedures, no checking. Typical for everyday contractor access in the majority of industrial facilities.

1. Passing the buck

Declaring others responsible for cyber security — end users, contractors etc. This is achieved by stressing “awareness” (assuming that the end user, if only being “aware” of cyber risk, would be in a position to take appropriate action). Typical example: Holding end users responsible for appropriately performing backups without ever giving them a procedure. Any provision that includes judgment on the end user’s part falls into this category.

2. Putting yourself in charge without a plan

Emphasizing that certain procedures and configurations are subject to permission by a central authority (such as the IT department, or physical security), but failing to provide any rules on how decisions are made — because there are none. This leads to ad-hoc decisions that cannot be questioned, consistently be performed by others, or even be audited. The major difference to level 1 is that now it’s no longer the end user who is held responsible, but consistency is missing as well.

3. Creating a fantasy world of wishful thinking

The organization has produced an impressive and consistent policy framework but never checks if it has anything to do with reality. Most of the time because it simply cannot be audited. For example, it is impossible to audit policies like “backups must be performed in a timely manner”, because “timely” could be anything between five minutes and five years.

4. The real deal

The organization uses a consistent policy framework that can be audited and is audited. For example, “timely” is specified as “every week”. Non-conformity is recorded and prompts action — not necessarily the decapitation of those who didn’t follow policy, but maybe the re-phrasing of policies that turned out to be not practical.

5. Sustainable governance

The organization is using a consistent policy framework that can be audited and is audited, and audits as well as user feedback is largely automated. Security automation is the key challenge for sustainable governance. Is that a technical problem? Absolutely not. Next time you pay your meter, order a pizza or cab over the Internet using an app, think about the absurdity that people in real production environments — including contractors — are expected to approach so much more important cyber security issues referring to a folder full of boring policy printouts, or try to locate the respective documents in a labyrinth of files. Rather than talking so much about the Industrial Internet of Things, we suggest to contemplate about the Industrial Intranet of OT Governance — if only because without solid governance, the Industrial Internet is doomed from the beginning.

Guess which level of governance we are implementing with the RIPE OT Security and Robustness Program.




Harmonizing ICS Security and Compliance

During the SANS ICS Security Summit 2015 last week in Orlando, Mike Assante moderated a panel titled: Harmonizing ICS Security and Compliance. I shared the stage with Matt Davis from Ernst & Yong and Josh Sandler from Duke Energy. Based on comments from my colleagues on the panel and questions from the audience, there was general agreement that security should transcend compliance. In other words, the goal of any organization should be a security regime that includes people, process, and technology in such a way that compliance is not the driver. Obviously, compliance does not equal security as any practitioner will tell you. Furthermore, having been on the regulator’s side of the table, regulations are intended to be the minimum of what must be done rather than the maximum. This mode of thinking puts the onus squarely on the asset owner, which is exactly where it should be. The regulator should be there to assist, enable, and at times validate, but ultimate responsibility remains with the asset owner.

Thanks to Mike for pulling this informative panel together and asking the key final question: So, what are asset owners to do? My answer was direct and to the point; call me. The Langner Group’s Robust Planning and Evaluation (RIPE) program can help asset owners implement just such a regime that integrates people, process, and technology into a sustainable and measurable security posture. RIPE is used to demonstrate compliance to the most rigid regulations in the nuclear industry on one end of the spectrum and to raise ICS security posture step by step, adjusting to available budget, for companies with no need to comply to regulation on the other end of the spectrum. It does well in these different scenarios and will also do well for your company.

Perry Pederson


Older posts «

» Newer posts