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The ACCC Results (May 2009 - May 2010)


Siemens provides a large set of solutions for Automation and Controls and joined the third phase of CERN openlab as a partner, enriching the framework activities portfolio with a new dimension and giving birth to the Automation and Controls Competence Centre. The CERN environment is highly reliant on industrial control systems such as control actuators, remote profibus Input/Output modules, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and SCADA systems. The collaboration that has been running for one year focuses on security, opening automation tools towards software engineering, and handling large environments.

PLCs robustness under test

CERN needs to define approaches for achieving the dual goals of connecting its operational network to the Internet while at the same time keeping its industrial control systems secure from external and internal attacks. With this in mind, the ISA-99 international cyber security standard was adopted as a reference model to define a set of implementation guidelines and a list of security robustness criteria applicable to any network device. Device security represents a key link in the defense-in-depth concept (See Figure ISA reference model for the Distributed Control Systems), as some attacks will inevitably penetrate security boundaries and thus require further protection measures.

Since no solutions based on security standards are available on the market, a wide investigation of the current cyber security testing techniques and systems has been performed in the first phase of the project. The team reviewed the Wurldtech’s "Achilles Satellite" product, a powerful testing platform, and successfully used it to analyse and evaluate the effectiveness of different testing techniques. However, to overcome this platform’s proprietary aspects and limitations in terms of supported network protocols and attack techniques customisation support, the Test-bench for Robustness of Industrial Equipments ("TRoIE") was designed and implemented. TRoIE aims at discovering possible PLC vulnerabilities through Ethernet communications. Such tests must not be confused with functional testing, where only valid operations are performed to cover all the possible "not malicious, but operating" scenarios. On the contrary, it is necessary to detect possible anomalies arising from an incorrect handling of corrupt communication channels. This approach has already been proven by the valuable findings obtained during the analysis of Siemens S7 PLC ranges. Thanks to this analysis, it was possible to report critical anomalies in the software stack to Siemens and directly contribute to improving the security level and robustness of their PLCs. These initial encouraging results have motivated the team to continue following and expanding this approach for the future of the openlab collaboration.

Software engineering

The process visualisation and control system PVSS is used at CERN for large distributed control systems, some with more than 150 computers. In the first year of collaboration between Siemens/ETM (a subsidiary of Siemens) and CERN, the PVSS project focused on two main areas. First, learning PVSS in depth. Second, starting to use the acquired knowledge for improvements and testing of upcoming features at CERN. To attain these objectives, the team concentrated on four main activities. The Oracle Archiver is a solution in PVSS for storing and retrieving historical data. CERN has been one of the main users of this feature, requiring an excellent performance and stability when faced with large volumes of data and high update frequencies. As a learning task, a number of critical issues and improvements raised by CERN users were solved. The result was the incorporation of code written at openlab in a subsequent patch of PVSS released by ETM.

Users of PVSS at CERN use SVN (a version control system) as a revision control system for their projects. The PVSS development environment did not have SVN integrated, forcing users to control their project revisions using external tools. Within the openlab framework, a SVN plugin for the development environment was prototyped and then used as a showcase to other ETM clients.

The PVSS version reporting tool (PVR) is a new tool that is now available to ETM, and in use at CERN. Typically, users requiring support when using PVSS report their problems through e-mail or issue tracking systems. However, a lot of systematic information is very often required and not sent manually when using this report mechanism. Using the PVSS Version Report Tool instead, a lot of typical information, which can be as simple as the Operating System or PVSS version number or free disk space and project dependencies, is automatically sent. This provides a much more efficient mechanism for reporting.

One of the constant feature requests by CERN users is Web Support in PVSS. ETM provided a Web plugin with the 3.9 release, which has still not been adopted at CERN. In order to test it for possible future use, and provide a testing ground to ETM with the usual CERN extreme requirements, the Web plugin was tested in the openlab scope, tackling both functional and performance aspects of the novel feature. A full report with analysis of issues of concern was sent back to ETM, providing information on aspects to be improved before adoption at CERN.

Step7 Openness and Deployment

The Step7 Openness and Deployment project is sub-divided into two major topics. The first topic focuses on the issues related to the deployment of Step7 in large-scale environments in an automated way. The second one concentrates on the issue of bringing in software engineering concepts and capabilities to enhance the features of the Step7 software stack.

In 2009/2010, deployment of Step7 in large-scale environments was selected as first priority. Step7 installation software is complex and requires a dedicated installer to manage various phases for installation and to dynamically configure the target machine in the post-installation phase. Allowing the system administrator to deploy, maintain, and upgrade installations of Step7 software both remotely and in an automated fashion on a set of target machines was thus a challenging objective.

The team first conducted a CERN-wide survey of PLC developers to learn about their deployment scenarios and the possible solutions they might have adopted to achieve this. Secondly, analysis and evaluations of off-the-shelf tools for software inventory management were conducted, and CFEngine was selected as a test candidate to deploy and automate the installation on a set of target machines. Then, various deployment strategies were evaluated spanning both short-term, medium-term and long-term durations to keep in line with the software development life-cycle of version 11 of Step7. The team developed the prototypes for each of these strategies and identified not only pros and cons of each approach, but also highlighted their impact on Step7 architecture and design to fully utilize the benefits of software deployment tools. All these design changes were reported to Siemens. Finally, a strategy using Siemens Installer engine was selected as a way forward to automate the deployment of Step7 software that fits both with Siemens’ short-term and long-term goals. The fact that this strategy was approved by Siemens to be part of their next version of Step7 software is one of the fruitful outcomes of this collaboration.

Last update: Thursday, 26. January 2012 13:13

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