The daily reboot

Awareness is important when it comes to cyber security, and this awarenes is often lacking in the control system domain because we are so used to looking for all sorts of other causes of upsets in production or accidents for that matter. I’m going to give a talk on industrial cyber security at a workshop offered by my employer (LR) on Tuesday. I figured I wanted to tell a short story to set the mood – here’s the outline.


The reboot story

Aldo Tomation is responsible for the control systems at the specialist material manufacturing firm Composite Reinforcement Inc. Aldo is passionate about both the finances of the company as well as the health and safety of his coworkers. Because of this, Aldo has shown great focus on production regularity and that all requirements of the European Machinery Directive and the machinery safety standard ISO 13849-1 have been met. Lately he has noticed a certain reduction in the production regularity, and the downtime is always occuring at the same time of the day. Every day, just after 4pm CET, the plant goes down, and then comes back up again shortly after. Aldo thinks that this is very strange, so he studies the machine logs. There he can see that the control system is reobooted just after 4pm every day, and that there are no control system log entries or data entries in the historian before the night shift comes on at 10pm. During the night shift everything works as it should.

Curious about this strange behavior Mr. Tomation talks to the operators. They tell him that every day the HMI screens and controls are locked just after 4pm every day but that they have found a workaraound; they just reboot the system and unplug the network cable just after the reboot – then everything works flawlessly! Aldo is impressed with the creativity shown by the operators to regain control but still puzzled by this strange behavior. He considers calling customer support to complain about the quality of the control system.

Question: If you had been Mr. A. Tomation – would you have considered the possibility of a cyber attack as the reason behind this strange need fo rebooting the control system?

3 Weeks before this strange behavior appeared, the firm had signed an agreement with the Japanese navy to deliver reinforcement fibers for a modernization project they were running on their  submarine fleet. This deal had been kept a secret from both parties. Could it still have something to do with the attacks?

What kind of awareness do I hope to give birth to with this story?

  • If your system is behaving in a strange way – it is worth checking out
  • Businesses can be targets for attacks that are motivated by geo-politics
  • Running a whole shift without logs shouldn’t be considered normal – why did the operators not report this as a possible security incident?

I’d love to hear your comments on whether you think this sort of story can be effective in awareness work. I’m going to test it with some clients, and then decide if I think it works.



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