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What are Industrial Control Systems (ICS)?


All industrial sectors leverage technology and automation systems to boost productivity and enhance ROI on processes. Industrial Control Systems (ICS) are crucial for automating and managing manufacturing, production, and data acquisition. But with the increased digital complexity, industrial control systems also pose various security challenges. This article will discuss what industrial control systems are, the security challenges they face, and how to prevent them.

What are industrial control systems (ICS)?

Industrial control systems (ICS) are a collection of different industrially-applied systems that integrate with hardware, software, and various networks. All these clusters together automate and control distinct industrial processes. 

Such systems are typically found in large-scale industries such as electric power, oil and gas, manufacturing facilities, water supply networks, and transportation systems.

Industrial control systems use distributed real-time data acquisition to regulate various industrial processes within a wide range of production systems. ICS technology mainly comprises of the following:

  • Distributed Control Systems (DCS)

  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) 

  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)

  • Programmable Automation Controllers (PACs)

  • Internet of Things (IoT)

  • Sensors

  • Industrial Automation and Control Systems (IACS)

  • Control Servers

  • Remote Terminal Units (RTUs)

  • Intelligent Electronic Devices

Challenges and threats of ICS security

Here are a few security challenges and threats to ICS:

  • Insecure proprietary protocols: Industrial systems use a wide variety of proprietary protocols. Most were designed decades ago for backing long-lived components. These protocols often lack security measures, making the entire ICS prone to cyber threats.

  • Lateral movement attack: In this attack technique, the adversary will compromise one endpoint and extend access laterally to other systems or hosts within the network. Lateral movement often helps attackers persist in a network for a long time.

  • Exploiting vulnerable IoTs and industrial systems: In IoT and industrial systems where the firmware and other software running within them remain vulnerable, attackers can exploit the vulnerabilities and compromise the entire network.

  • Phishing OT account credentials: Operational Technology (OT) often gets compromised as cybercriminals target the OT dashboard by stealing login credentials through phishing techniques. Attackers use counterfeit links and login pages to extract authentication details of owners to compromise ICS and other interconnected systems.

Security measures for ICS

Each industrial sector is unique and must leverage specialized ICS security requirements. In this technology-driven era where automation is the key to seamless progress, industries must implement ICS security measures to protect the entire system. According to a report, the global ICS security market will grow from US$ 16.7 billion in 2022 to US$ 23.7 billion in 2027. Let's explore the security measures industries need for enhanced security.

  • Establish an incident response plan: Most organizations only think about how to respond once an incident occurs. That leaves the architecture, systems configuration, and activity logs misaligned. Thus, organizations should establish incident response plans to determine how to manage and recover from any incident.

  • Enable network visibility and continuous monitoring: Industrial technologies and control systems that were once good might wear out at some point. Thus, organizations should continuously validate their network and ICS architecture by leveraging security visibility tactics. Again, constant monitoring of ICS components like distributed control systems, industrial automation, the Internet of Things, and sensors are also essential for enhanced security.

  • Implement a vulnerability management program: Vulnerabilities in industrial systems and IoT devices can lead to severe threats to the organization. Organizations should provide risk management plans by fixing the patches and plugging the gaps in the different parts of the ICS. Often security professionals encounter vulnerabilities in industrial hardware, software, firmware, and network systems, among others.

  • Enforce ICS security policies: Industrial security policies, if properly implemented, work great for all industries. Security professionals should lay out a plan to assess, obey, and enforce multiple best practices. Operations, security professionals, and management should work in tandem to implement the policies.

  • Implement the principle of least privilege: The least privileged access limits user access rights. It provides the bare minimum privileges and ownership required to perform any task. Implementing this technique in ICS can help reduce cyberattacks.

  • Secure all remote access: Many employees and operational team members need remote access to manage ICS assets in all geographically distributed locations. However, ICS systems should harbour strong authentication through robust encryption protocol and access control mechanisms to prevent unauthorized remote access.

  • Seek help from security experts: Industrial systems and organizations should seek guidance from security experts and solution providers like Packetlabs for robust measures against all forms of ICS cyber threats.


ICS are complex because of their diversity and are often vulnerable. ICS is a vital part of any critical manufacturing plant or industrial infrastructure. Therefore, every organization needs to prioritize securing its industrial systems. Contact the Packetlabs team today to learn more about ICS/OT Penetration Testing.

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