Showing posts with label industrial control. Show all posts
Showing posts with label industrial control. Show all posts

Sunday, June 30, 2019

US Power Grids, Oil and Gas Industries, and Risk of Hacking

A report released in June, from the security firm Dragos, describes a worrisome development by a hacker group named, “Xenotime” and at least two dangerous oil and gas intrusions and ongoing reconnaissance on United States power grids.

Multiple ICS (Industrial Control Sectors) sectors now face the XENOTIME threat; this means individual verticals – such as oil and gas, manufacturing, or electric – cannot ignore threats to other ICS entities because they are not specifically targeted.


The Dragos researchers have termed this threat proliferation as the world’s most dangerous cyberthreat since an event in 2017 where Xenotime had caused a serious operational outage at a crucial site in the Middle East. 

The fact that concerns cybersecurity experts the most is that this hacking attack was a malware that chose to target the facility safety processes (SIS – safety instrumentation system).

For example, when temperatures in a reactor increase to an unsafe level, an SIS will automatically start a cooling process or immediately close a valve to prevent a safety accident. The SIS safety stems are both hardware and software that combine to protect facilities from life threatening accidents.

At this point, no one is sure who is behind Xenotime. Russia has been connected to one of the critical infrastructure attacks in the Ukraine.  That attack was viewed to be the first hacker related power grid outage.

This is a “Cause for Concern” post that was published by Dragos on June 14, 2019

“While none of the electric utility targeting events has resulted in a known, successful intrusion into victim organizations to date, the persistent attempts, and expansion in scope is cause for definite concern. XENOTIME has successfully compromised several oil and gas environments which demonstrates its ability to do so in other verticals. Specifically, XENOTIME remains one of only four threats (along with ELECTRUM, Sandworm, and the entities responsible for Stuxnet) to execute a deliberate disruptive or destructive attack.

XENOTIME is the only known entity to specifically target safety instrumented systems (SIS) for disruptive or destructive purposes. Electric utility environments are significantly different from oil and gas operations in several aspects, but electric operations still have safety and protection equipment that could be targeted with similar tradecraft. XENOTIME expressing consistent, direct interest in electric utility operations is a cause for deep concern given this adversary’s willingness to compromise process safety – and thus integrity – to fulfill its mission.

XENOTIME’s expansion to another industry vertical is emblematic of an increasingly hostile industrial threat landscape. Most observed XENOTIME activity focuses on initial information gathering and access operations necessary for follow-on ICS intrusion operations. As seen in long-running state-sponsored intrusions into US, UK, and other electric infrastructure, entities are increasingly interested in the fundamentals of ICS operations and displaying all the hallmarks associated with information and access acquisition necessary to conduct future attacks. While Dragos sees no evidence at this time indicating that XENOTIME (or any other activity group, such as ELECTRUM or ALLANITE) is capable of executing a prolonged disruptive or destructive event on electric utility operations, observed activity strongly signals adversary interest in meeting the prerequisites for doing so.”

Friday, May 18, 2018

Wireless Instrumentation Promises to Improve Plant Efficiency, Mitigate Risk, and Increase Productivity

Yokogawa Wireless pressure transmitter
Wireless pressure
transmitter (Yokogawa)
Industrial companies are under great pressure to improve safety, reliability, and efficiency. Plant managers are faced with maintaining profits in face of greater competition and rising costs. Lost production, escalating energy costs, unexpected maintenance problems, and heightened safety concerns are always on the horizon. Situations such as unplanned shutdowns and outages due to equipment failure can be devastating to plant performance. Keeping personnel safe in dangerous or hazardous areas requires strict and deliberate attention to procedure. To address these concerns (reduce risk, save money, improve performance) higher reliability, and feature rich process technologies must continually evolve. Wireless instrumentation is one such technology. These new products deliver a promise to improve plant efficiency, mitigate risk, and increase productivity.

Yokogawa wireless gateway
Wireless gateway
(Yokogawa)
Today's wireless instruments are available for monitoring virtually any process control variable including flow, pressure, level, temperature, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, etc..., or to monitor atmospheres for unsafe levels of toxic or combustible gases. These devices reliably transmit critical control and safety data back to central monitoring systems without the need for human supervision.

The argument for wireless instrumentation is very compelling when you consider installation convenience and cost savings.  Some cost savings estimates run as high as 70%  by eliminating wires and cables, as opposed to the cost when using cables for the same application. And most remarkably, wireless instruments provide additional safety and compliance benefits by keeping maintenance personnel out of dangerous or hazardous areas.

Wireless, portable gas detection
Wireless, portable gas detection
(Drager X-zone 5500)
In the process control industry, there are many reasons to adopt wireless instrumentation, but the acceptance by companies has been slow.  Why is this?  The fiscal argument for the industry to adopt wireless instrumentation networks is convincing as wireless is one of the more promising cost cutting technologies.

Impediments to Wireless
  • Reliability and Familiarity - Wireless must provide the same reliability (real and perceived) as traditional wired units, and engineers, operators, and maintenance staff must become just as comfortable with wireless as they are with wires and cables.
  • Working Within the Existing Infrastructure - Sometimes it doesn't make sense to build or relocate infrastructure or equipment just to create a reliable wireless link.  
  • Integration with Existing Communications - Concern over the impact on engineers, operators, and maintenance because of their work with the other, existing, field communications systems.

Drager wireless gateway
Drager wireless gateway
Industries will always be faced with cost cutting. A plant manager's job is continuous process improvement. There is always a need for better control solutions, and wireless instruments are promising. As the adoption of wireless instrumentation accelerate, concerns about reliability, user comfort,  infrastructure, and integration will subside. Industry-wide acceptance will be driven by deployment and maintenance savings, improved safety and easier governmental compliance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Flow-Tech, Inc. Serving Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia

Flow-Tech is a manufacturer’s representative and stocking distributor of process instrumentation and calibration equipment in Maryland, D.C and Virginia specializing in the Industrial Process, Control, and Test / Measurement markets.

https://flowtechonline.com
410-666-3200 MD
804-752-3450 VA

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Well Grounded Knowledge for Industrial Control - Part Three of Three

Drawing symbol for electrical ground connection
Drawing Symbol for Electrical Ground Connection

This is the third part of a three part series of white papers intended to boost or reinforce your knowledge of electrical grounding for industrial process measurement and control.

Part One and Part Two were previously posted in this blog and you would be best served to read all three papers in sequence.

The series was exceptionally well written by the folks at Acromag, a world class manufacturer of industrial I/O devices.

Your questions or concerns about any aspect of your industrial process control or measurement applications are always welcome. Contact us and we will work with you to formulate a solution to a process measurement and control challenge.


Well Grounded Knowledge for Industrial Control - Part Two of Three

Electrical drawing symbol for ground connection
Drawing Symbol for Electrical Ground Connection
The use of electric power to perform work, whether using large motors or sensitive instrumentation, involves benefits and hazards. In modern society, preventing exposure of equipment and appliance users to electric shock is universally accepted as a mandate imposed upon manufacturers, installers, and operators of electrical equipment. Proper electrical grounding serves as a key element in maintaining the level of safe operation we all want to have in our facilities.

One manufacturer of industrial process control I/O devices, Acromag, has expertly written three white papers in a series providing non-technical tutorials and explanations on the subject of electrical grounding and its integral role in safety and operational integrity.
Some topics covered include:
  • The safety function of a ground connection
  • Operation of a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)
  • How electrical ground can stabilize voltage and limit transients
  • Recommendations for improvement of safety and signal integrity   
  • Importance of circuit grounding
  • AC power in the United States and its use of earth ground
Part One was published previously, and it is advisable to review the three parts in sequence. The third installment follows this post. This is recommended reading for all technical levels. Industrial process measurement and control stakeholders will all benefit, whether from newly acquired knowledge or refreshed understanding of the subject.

Product and application specialists are always eager to hear about your application issues and questions. Never hesitate to contact them. Your process knowledge, combined with the product and application familiarity of a professional sales engineer, will generate good outcomes.


Well Grounded Knowledge for Industrial Control - Part One of Three

Drawing symbol for electrical ground connection
Drawing Symbol for Electrical Ground
I suspect that most control system techs have, at one time or another, come face to face with control or instrument behavior that seemed bizarre and intractable. Maybe strange behavior would come and go with no apparent explanation. Instruments or control equipment would work properly for a while, then inexplicably go south. You carefully observe illogical operation occurring without any apparent cause, and sorting it out proves to be very difficult. This is not a situation in which you want to find yourself as a service technician, operator, or vendor, particularly when process stakeholders, like your boss or customer, are observing your progress.

While many of these stories may illicit laughter when retold as history, at the time they are serious business and nobody is laughing. If you want to avoid these sweat stain inducng situations in your career, one subject on which you should be well versed is electrical grounding of your industrial process equipment and instruments. Whether a tech, vendor, or operator, solid basic knowledge about grounding principals and techniques will help you to assure the safety of personnel and equipment in your work area and keep instrumentation and controls operating as intended.

This first of three installments is shown below, expertly written by the engineers at Acromag, a world class manufacturer of I/O devices for industrial process measurement and control.  Part Two and Part Three will be published in successive posts. I recommend these white papers for all technical levels as newly acquired knowledge or refresher. This is subject matter that applies universally. Be sure to read Part Two and Part Three.

Application assistance is always available from knowledgeable sales engineers specializing in process measurement and control. The best solution to an application challenge will arise from a combination of your process mastery and the product knowledge and technical resources of your respected vendors.