[ISN] US to tighten nuclear cyber security

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Thu Jan 27 02:27:48 EST 2005


By Kevin Poulsen
26th January 2005 

Federal regulators are proposing to add computer security standards to
their criteria for installing new computerized safety systems in
nuclear power plants.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) quietly launched a public
comment period late last month on a proposed 15-page update to its
regulatory guide "Criteria for Use of Computers in Safety Systems of
Nuclear Power Plants." The current version, written in 1996, is three
pages long and makes no mention of security.

The replacement would expand existing safety and reliability
requirements for digital safety system, and infuse security
requirements into every stage of a system's lifecycle, from drawing
board to retirement.

Last year the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) warned of growing international concern about the potential for
cyber attacks against nuclear facilities, and said it was finalizing
new security guidelines of its own. No successful targeted attacks
against plants have been publicly reported, but in 2001 the Slammer
worm penetrated a private computer network at Ohio's idled Davis-Besse
nuclear plant and disabled a safety monitoring system for nearly five
hours. The worm entered the plant network through an interconnected
contractor's network, bypassing Davis-Besse's firewall.

The NRC draft advises against such interconnections. It also advises
plant operators to consider the effect of each new system on the
plant's cyber security, and to develop response plans to deal with
computer incidents. Vendors are told how to reduce the risk of
saboteurs planting backdoors and logic bombs in safety system software
during the development phase.

"I really liked the notion of making people aware that they need to
address security throughout the process of developing new software and
systems, and not just as a test at the end," says Chris Wysopal, a
Boston-based computer security researcher with the Symantec
Corporation. "They talked about that going all the way back to the
requirement phase, which I thought was good."

But for all its breadth, adherence to the new guidelines would be
strictly voluntary for operators of the 103 nuclear reactors already
running in the US - a detail that irks some security experts. In filed
comments, Joe Weiss, a control systems cyber security consultant at
KEMA, Inc., argued the regulatory guide shouldn't be limited to plant
safety systems, and that existing plants should be required to comply.

"There have been numerous cases of control system cyber security
impacts including several in commercial nuclear plants," Weiss wrote.  
"Many nuclear plants have connected their plant networks to corporate
networks making them potentially vulnerable to cyber intrusions."

Wysopal, who reviewed the draft at SecurityFocus' request, agrees that
it could use more juice. "It's kind of sad," he says. "I see that
people have all these great notions of how we can build software and
systems more securely, but it's always voluntary."

The NRC is accepting public comments on the new guide until 11

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