A Hands-on Modular Laboratory Environment to Foster Learning in Control System Security

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Virginia Tech

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPSes) form the core of Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and critical infrastructures. These systems use computers to control and monitor physical processes in many critical industries including aviation, industrial automation, transportation, communications, waste treatment, and power systems. Increasingly, these systems are connected with corporate networks and the Internet, making them susceptible to risks similar to traditional computing systems experiencing cyber-attacks on a conventional IT network. Furthermore, recent attacks like the Stuxnet worm have demonstrated the weaknesses of CPS security, which has gained much attention in the research community to develop more effective security mechanisms. While this remains an important topic of research, often CPS security is not given much attention in undergraduate programs. There can be a significant disconnect between control system engineers with CPS engineering skills and network engineers with an IT background.

This thesis describes hands-on courseware to help students bridge this gap. This courseware incorporates cyber-physical security concepts into effective learning modules that highlight real-world technical issues. A modular learning approach helps students understand CPS architectures and their vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks via experiential learning, and acquire practical skills through actively participating in the hands-on exercises. The ultimate goal of these lab modules is to show how an adversary would break into a conventional CPS system by exploiting various network protocols and security measures implemented in the system. A mock testbed environment is created using commercial-off-the-shelf hardware to address the unique aspects of a CPS, and serve as a cybersecurity trainer for students from control system or IT backgrounds. The modular nature of this courseware, which uses an economical and easily replicable hardware testbed, make this experience uniquely available as an adjunct to a conventional embedded system, control system design, or cybersecurity courses. To assess the impact of this courseware, an evaluation survey is developed to measure the understanding of the unique aspects of CPS security addressed. These modules leverage the existing academic subjects, help students understand the sequence of steps taken by adversaries, and serve to bridge theory and practice.

cybersecurity, trust, embedded security, modular education, security lab, hands-on learning, embedded systems, cyber-physical systems, control systems