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Industrial cyber security improves through cooperation

Text: Pasi Ahonen | 14.12.2017

Sharing experiences learned the hard way is a prerequisite for the future continuity of industrial players. Through the KYBER-TEO programme, VTT and players in the sector have developed and tested services, usable by industry, to ensure cyber security and continuity.

Cyber threats and advanced attacks directed at automation systems have increased exponentially. Cyber criminals have closed communities and technologies that can be used to develop new technical and communal means of earning money illegally via data networks – an example is the Tor network, which enables anonymous use of the Internet.

Due to the rising cyber threat, industrial companies and officials must continually familiarise themselves with new, secretly developed cyberspace tools and develop their expertise to identify and prevent new forms of cyber crime. As cyber security requirements tighten, system administrators must continually adopt better protection and bug fixes.

The KYBER-TEO project, which was led by VTT, enables industrial firms to acquire cybersafe automation systems more easily and develop their own concepts, guidelines and practices to ensure operational continuity. The practices and solution models developed and tested through the VTT Impulse 27 project will benefit parties such as industrial players that need reliable industrial automation, as well as system vendors, software vendors and service providers.

Architectures and technologies are becoming more complex

The cyber security of each architecture and concept included in an automation system must be analysed at a sufficient level. Issues requiring analysis include the following:

  • physical and logical data network architecture, telecommunication architecture
  • automation system architecture
  • intelligent device implementation architecture
  • automation software and application architecture
  • management or maintenance architecture
  • information security architecture
  • monitoring architecture


As threats grow, telecommunications, security zones between data and computing, and safe implementation and monitoring of subnets and virtual environments in the production environment must all be strengthened. Ensuring cyber security requires actions such as the secure implementation and maintenance of gateway devices and software and wireless networks (e.g. building automation applications), and monitoring to ensure the right behaviour.

The best solutions are based on the involvement of industrial sectors, cooperation between businesses and the broader use of expertise in general.

A cyber security testing environment – the VTT Cyber Security War Room

In 2010, we noticed that global industry players were becoming interested in automation security vulnerabilities and the testing of systems. Finnish end customers too began to ask automation system vendors about documentation on well-managed information security, such as

  • cyber security test reports,
  • certificates or
  • other evidence that the appropriate cyber security had been ensured.


The main goal of cyber security testing is to make delivered automation systems and their support systems sufficiently cyber safe during the development phase. This requires cooperation between system vendors and testers, and the determination and development of matters such as the following:

Functionality: The most detailed understanding possible of the correct functioning of the test object, including automation functions.

Coverage of testing: Determining realistic test coverage and dividing testing into different types of periods, so that the most critical functions can be tested.

Quality of testing: Determining the most efficient test tools and methods applicable to the test object, and competence development.

Depth of testing: Using applicable test methods and tools to drill down into the particular problems affecting the test object.

Impact of platforms and integrations: Understanding the different applications and environments in which the test subject will be installed. This may provide indications of hidden, critical interfaces and functionality.

Sample progress of technical testing

The aim of cyber security testing is that the customer's own product development function can test for the most typical vulnerabilities. This requires moving onto the next phase, where cyber security testing is automated and deployed as part of the developer company's product development process.

1) Design: Begin by jointly defining the targets and use cases to be tested and, in particular, the content of the testing: what methods and tools will be used and how extensive will the testing be.

2) Testing: The cyber security testers perform testing to the best of their abilities and enter the results in a test report. The best result is often obtained based on several testers and the opportunity to consult the customer on issues such as the correct behaviour of the test target during testing.

3) Patches: The customer patches its product or has it patched, in accordance with the findings in the test report. A patched product should be retested after this, to ensure that all faults have been eliminated and the patches did not contain new vulnerabilities.

Confidential external assistance is often needed when an automation vendor develops cyber security testing for a company's automation systems.

A test report is a key element of confidential communication between cyber-security testers, developers or the customer.

Monitoring the cyber security of production

Production unit data networks must be monitored for many reasons. In typical cases, production must investigate and manage the following issues:

Production status: Does production work precisely as planned, or have deviations occurred?

Network faults: Problems concerning the normal operation of networks and the causes of faults must be identified in (almost) real time.

Asset management: Regular and cost-efficient inventories must be performed on the state of devices connected to the networks (the objects to be secured).

Capacity management: Network overload must be pre-emptively prevented through continuous monitoring.

Situational picture of cyber safety: Any cyber security breaches and data leaks in the networks must be identifiable.

Nowadays, strong use should be made of the status monitoring of production, network, assets and capacity when targeting the technical monitoring of the cyber security situation.

Monitoring networks in a production unit

Cyber security controls and monitoring of the status of cyber security should be tailored for, and integrated with, the production unit from the design phase onwards. This will avoid the need to add expensive cyber security solutions afterwards, which require changes to the architecture. Successful threat monitoring is seldom achievable through the services of a single automation system vendor, since the environment is almost always a multi-vendor one, which creates its own challenges.

The customer must also understand the production unit's cyber security requirements and their development across the lifecycle, so that issues such as system updates and monitoring can be properly executed in cooperation with the various parties involved.

Alongside experts, you must explore issues such as what you should log – e.g. system logins, software start-up attempts, system process changes, and changes to data connections. Good principles include the following:

  • Logs must be strongly protected so that no one can change them.
  • It must be ensured that log entries cannot fill up the memory, jamming the machine.
  • In the case of complex log entries, a professional log analysis should be ordered regularly if internal competencies do not suffice.


In industrial automation in particular, it may be advisable to follow instructions that force simplicity and a clear division of tasks: do not add separate information security software to an actuator – use the device's own security, storage and logging procedures. If separate information security systems are nevertheless added, their management and use must be separated from other equipment, because they will introduce new vulnerabilities and attack vectors.

Changes in trends could enable the more precise cyber security monitoring of suspicious objects. Trend monitoring should also be integrated with broader operational monitoring, in which anomalous activity stands out from normal activity by exceeding the thresholds for "normal." Detailed trends can easily be monitored, including graphically, using customisable indicators based on commercial and open source code.

Hands-on exercises in cyber security

By cyber training, we mean wellorganised workshops in which the participants' cyber security awareness and competencies are improved through lectures and practical exercises. These workshops include the basics on a chosen theme, followed by a demonstration or the participants trying out hands-on exercises related to the theme for themselves.

The exercises should be in accordance with the customer's needs. If the customer needs exercises on its own production system (target environment), a customised cyber exercise must be developed. In such a case, the cyber security specialists will pre-analyse the vulnerabilities or other serious problems detected in the demo environment of the client's automation system. Ultimately, in customised cyber exercises, developers and administrators can be encouraged to try out testing tools, cyber attack identification and the applicable protection methods that are just right for them.

Basic concept of the cyber training workshop

The basic concept of the cyber training workshop must be simple and understandable, so that all participants understand what is being done and why. Cyber training encourages and, for example, supports participants in developing their own cyber security skills. In the workshops, they can:

  • Learn about the perspectives of the attacker, the detector and the defender.
  • Operate in different network areas, depending on the phase of the attack
  • Use different tools to visualise incidents.



Pasi Ahonen graduated in 1994, as a Licentiate in Industrial Physics, from the Department of Physics of the University of Helsinki. His studies focused on measurement systems for external environmental conditions, particularly the development of ultrasonic sensors for the energy sector and air traffic. He is currently working as a Principal Scientist in VTT’s Cyber security team, and is in charge of developing the cyber security of industry



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