Control System Devices: Architectures and Supply Channels Overview

There’s been a ton of work on reverse engineering PLC firmware, but not a ton on the hardware or supply chain issues. This is a Sandia technical report I published with John Mulder, Jason Trent, and Will Atkins a couple of years ago.

Control System Devices: Architectures and Supply Channels Overview

This report describes a research project to examine the hardware used in automated control systems like those that control the electric grid. This report provides an overview of the vendors, architectures, and supply channels for a number of control system devices. The research itself represents an attempt to probe more deeply into the area of programmable logic controllers (PLCs)—the specialized digital computers that control individual processes within supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. The report (1) provides an overview of control system networks and PLC architecture, (2) furnishes profiles for the top eight vendors in the PLC industry, (3) discusses the communications protocols used in different industries, and (4) analyzes the hardware used in several PLC devices. As part of the project, several PLCs were disassembled to identify constituent components. That information will direct the next step of the research, which will greatly increase our understanding of PLC security in both the hardware and software areas. Such an understanding is vital for discerning the potential national security impact of security flaws in these devices, as well as for developing proactive countermeasures.

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