The Need for Networking and Security Knowledge in Modern SCADA Systems

In today’s SCADA systems, having a basic understanding of networking concepts is crucial for engineers and technicians alike. A large majority of the equipment communicates over a TCP/IP network backbone and the classic SCADA engineer is typically quite clueless as to the inner workings of a network. This is due to most SCADA engineers being either mechanical or electrical engineers by training. Due to this gap in understanding, it is very common for a SCADA engineer to not understand the basics of routing and networking, which the entire SCADA system relies upon for data transfer.

A Broad Understanding

That is why at Trimark we have been focusing on not just SCADA engineers getting networking knowledge, but also our Data Scientists, Metering Engineers, and Project Managers. The more each of these groups knows about networking, the more likely it is for simple networking errors to be caught and corrected in a timely manner. This allows our technicians to get to the root of the issue faster, and for our Project Managers to allocate the correct resources and be more informed when making difficult decisions.

Food for Thought

Recently, we have been holding company-wide lunch-and-learns on the topic of networking. Everyone takes an hour out of their day to sit down and begin understanding the function of an IP address, a Subnet Mask, a Default Gateway and getting exposure to classic troubleshooting situations that could occur if any of those are programmed incorrectly. Due to the complex, data-driven nature of current SCADA systems, it behooves everyone to know what the purpose of a router is, what the limitations and types of switches there are, and what happens if your network parameters are programmed a specific way and what they mean.

Networking Lunch-and-Learn – Host 1 to Host 3
Much like mailing a letter, a number of routing steps occur when one computer talks to another.

This knowledge is especially important for the average SCADA engineer, technician, and SCADA-adjacent employee, who may deal with a wide range of networking equipment such as Layer 2 and 3 switches, routers, firewalls, fiber switches, radios, modems and/or Wi-Fi on a daily basis. Typically, we at Trimark find that if the Technician on site has basic networking knowledge the length of troubleshooting can be drastically reduced. This is due to the Technician having the exposure to understand the limitations and typical setup of a network, as well as knowing the right questions to ask and when to ask them.

The Route Ahead

Looking forward, Trimark plans to hold monthly in-house Networking training sessions conducted by Trimark SCADA Network Engineers, to continue onto more advanced topics. Some of the topics that will be discussed are VPNs, WAN vs LAN, Public vs Private IPs, Ports, Protocols, Firewall Rules, Advanced Troubleshooting Methods, and eventually an introduction to the basics of programming a Firewall. With this exposure, our team at Trimark can readily deduce what the problem may be and how to fix it as quickly as possible, saving everyone time, money, and stress in the process.

Author

20200204_094923

Alex Davis
SCADA Network Engineer

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