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SCADA System

Today's engineering and management professionals face challenges that never existed even a decade ago. Technology advances are accelerating exponentially, creating a fast-paced, sophisticated, and increasingly complex environment. Additionally, the roles of SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) are changing.

SCADA is essential to modern business. In fact, developing SCADA systems normally allows your company to function far more efficiently and safely―and at far lower cost―than a simple manually-adjusted pneumatic system. These systems provide the near real-time data flows needed to operate efficiently in a deregulated environment. Some have artificial intelligence programs built into them, so that they can perform even more efficiently under normal operating circumstances. The wonder of SCADA systems, and of all automation, is that the communications and computing components of the systems are similar enough that they are able to intercommunicate for the sake of efficiency and replaceability. Currently, power grids, dams, and other industrial facilities are monitored by SCADA systems; approximately 3 million of these exist throughout the world. Based on telemetry and simple data acquisition, they give scant regard to security, often lacking the memory and bandwidth for sophisticated password or authentication systems. SCADA typically runs on DOS, VMS, and Unix platforms, although vendors are now shipping Windows NT and Linux versions, as well. Key industries using this technology include water and wastewater, oil and gas, and power/electric utilities. Other industries include transit systems (cargo and light rail as examples), telecom, and aquaculture. SCADA is the real-time IT business and cannot be ignored by enterprises without potentially risking both the profitability and viability of their business in a fiercely competitive. Intelligent real-time systems must make high-level decisions and diagnose unexpected events. They acquire data automatically, apply heuristic methods to interpret sensor readings, and feed advice to the process or to the user via a friendly man-machine interface. Although data are acquired directly, decision-making can be slow for effective action. Data must be filtered before passing to the knowledge base. Often, it is left to time-pressured production personnel to select and implement a system as best they can with the limited time resources they have available. This can result in a mixture of SCADA packages and varying levels of sophistication. A SCADA system is the closest thing to a nervous system anywhere within a utility, and it is inherently obvious that neglecting the system that monitors all critical events in real-time will quickly lead to operational paralysis. However, competition is now the name of the game, and today's utility executives are questioning every assumption. 'Business as usual' is now history. Success depends on identifying what wins, as in any other industry, and utilities are no exception. Why Do We Need SCADA? SCADA provides reporting of all transactions to provide permanent financial paper trails, and can dynamically adjust the pressure at regulator stations and other locations to save you money compared to seasonal adjustments. SCADA systems can perform all kinds of operations at the discretion of your gas control center. Some have artificial intelligence programs built into them so that they can perform even more efficiently under normal operating circumstances. They save money, and make money for your company. They are also increasingly linked; that becomes a vulnerability or an asset depending on whether you have the information to plan adequately. While the benefits of SCADA systems are clear, the consequent vulnerabilities are less recognized. Very few such systems are protected even by passwords―the weakest form of security. What happens if one encounters an emergency in a fully-linked but unprotected SCADA system? A properly functioning SCADA system will provide you with correct data interpretation and enhanced capability to respond. But what about a maliciously-planned emergency brought on by people who are familiar with system operations or by outside third parties that are armed with sophisticated computer systems knowledge? Well ... as long as we are able to maintain pneumatic control over our systems, we may lose data in a break-in, and we may lose control of the system, but we won't be likely to suffer a major system shut-down under most circumstances. The pneumatic controls of our system guard us against the kind of loss of control NSA feels the electric grid is faced with. Right? Not really. The pneumatic controls our systems operate under have protected us well. Engineers and scientists working in both, public and private sectors evolved safeguards built into those systems over many years. Those safeguards were built for the technology of the time, developed over the last several decades. They are not adequate to meet the security needs of embedded systems in the electronic age. The electronic age allows a person with sufficient knowledge to make you think your pipelines are at capacity when they are not, that you are lowering pressure when you are actually raising it at remote locations, or that there is nothing wrong on your system when, in fact, your system is failing. And if your system gives your operators incorrect information, they will take inappropriate actions, either manually or via remote command. Companies, in an effort to remain competitive, are streamlining operations, consolidating resources and tightening their budgets, all with the intent of generating cost savings and boosting thinning profit margins. There is one crucial element, however, that industries cannot afford to cut out of their budgets. This element is called Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems.

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