ICS SCADA Cybersecurity Certification: Everything You Need To Know

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From the convenience of smart homes to the efficiency of automated manufacturing, we can’t argue the fact that digital technology has brought immense benefits to our society. However, it is quite difficult to ignore the introduction of new vulnerabilities and threats, especially for critical infrastructure systems that are responsible for managing essential services like power generation, water treatment, and even transportation. Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) act as the very backbone of this infrastructure.

Unfortunately, such systems are seeing a rapid increase in cyber-attacks, posing significant risks. This is increasingly worrisome considering a successful attack on an ICS/SCADA system can lead to devastating consequences, causing disruptions to essential services, safety hazards, and even environmental damage. Hence, certified ICS/SCADA cybersecurity professionals are highly in demand. 

This is where ICS/SCADA cybersecurity certifications can prove fruitful. It can help you demonstrate that you hold the relevant expertise in securing these critical systems and can aid in mitigating growing threats. Our guide aims to take a deeper dive into all you need to know about these certifications, allowing you to make an informed decision about pursuing one and boosting your career. 

What Is The Difference Between ICS and SCADA Systems?

While often used interchangeably, ICS (Industrial Control System) and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) have distinct roles within the industrial automation hierarchy. Here is a deeper look at them both.

Industrial Control System (ICS)

ICS is considered to be an umbrella term encompassing all the different hardware and software elements that automate and control industrial processes.  You can think of ICS as the main key in charge of different elements of a system, such as sensors, controllers, actuators, etc, to achieve a specific goal which could be a variety of things from maintaining pressure in a chemical plant, or regulating temperature in a powerplant, etc. 

All these different elements work together to gather real-time data from the physical process, make control decisions based on pre-programmed logic, and influence the physical world through actuators (valves, motors, etc.).

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)

SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) is a specific type of system within the ICS architecture. SCADA aims to monitor and control processes remotely. It collects data from sensors and field devices spread across the industrial facility, transmits this data to a central location for visualization and analysis, and allows operators to remotely control equipment and adjust control parameters using a Human-Machine Interface (HMI). SCADA systems provide a central platform for operators to monitor the health of the industrial process, identify potential issues, and intervene if necessary.

Why Pursue An ICS/SCADA Cybersecurity Certification?

The decision to pursue an ICS/SCADA certification can be a wise investment in your future. Here are some strong reasons to consider adding this valuable credential to your skillset and resume:

Increased Earning Potential

The demand for skilled ICS/SCADA professionals is on the rise. Driven by the growing awareness of cyber threats to critical infrastructure. According to Glassdoor, the average salary of an ICS cybersecurity specialist is around $112,000 per year. Earning an INCS/SCADA cybersecurity certification can position you to command a higher salary within this field.

Better Job Security

As per the ISC2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, the gap is constantly rising between the number of workers needed in cybersecurity and the supply available. And with an increasing focus on securing ICS/SCADA systems, professionals with specialized knowledge in this area are in demand more than ever. Therefore, having a relevant certification demonstrates your qualification and commitment to this field, which, in turn, improves your job security in a competitive market.

More Career Growth Opportunities

A specialized certification such as the ICS SCADA cybersecurity cert can definitely open doors to many leadership roles within security teams. This is because as your expertise grows, you can use your newly developed skills to pursue supervisory or managerial positions that may involve leading and guiding security efforts within your organization.

Demonstrated Expertise

Earning a recognized ICS/SCADA cybersecurity certification validates your understanding of the unique challenges and best practices for securing critical infrastructure. This certification acts as a credible third-party verification of your knowledge and skills, setting you apart from other candidates, and showcasing your commitment to continuous professional development.

What Does An ICS/SCADA Cybersecurity Certification Cover?

Equipping yourself with the right knowledge is crucial for success in the complicated field of ICS/SCADA. Most recognized certifications cover a core set of topics that provide a comprehensive foundation for securing these critical systems. Here’s a detailed breakdown of some of the key areas you can expect to encounter

ICS/SCADA Fundamentals

A strong understanding of the underlying architecture, components, and functionalities of ICS/SCADA systems is essential. This foundational knowledge typically covers:

  • Industrial Control System (ICS) Components: This includes sensors, controllers, actuators, Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs), and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) that work together to automate and monitor physical processes. 
  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) Systems: You’ll learn about the role of SCADA systems in collecting data from field devices, monitoring operations, and providing supervisory control over ICS components.
  • Communication Protocols: Understanding common communication protocols used in ICS/SCADA environments, such as Modbus, DNP3, and IEC 61850, is crucial for identifying vulnerabilities and implementing security measures. 

Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities

This section equips you to identify and mitigate the ever-evolving cyber threats targeting ICS/SCADA systems. You’ll delve into:

  • Common Attack Vectors: Learn about the various ways attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in ICS/SCADA systems, such as social engineering, malware attacks, and zero-day exploits. 
  • Specific Threats: Gain insights into well-known cyberattacks like Stuxnet and Triton that specifically targeted ICS/SCADA systems, highlighting the potential consequences of successful attacks.
  • Vulnerability Management: You’ll explore strategies for identifying, assessing, and prioritizing vulnerabilities within ICS/SCADA environments to proactively address security risks. 

ICS/SCADA Security Best Practices

This section focuses on the practical implementation of security measures to safeguard ICS/SCADA systems. Key areas covered may include:

  • Network Segmentation: Learn how to isolate critical control networks from IT networks to limit the impact of cyberattacks. 
  • Access Control: Explore best practices for implementing strong access controls, including role-based access control (RBAC) and least privilege principles, to restrict unauthorized access to ICS/SCADA systems.
  • Patch Management: Develop a comprehensive understanding of the importance of timely patching and vulnerability management within ICS/SCADA environments.
  • Data Security: Learn about securing sensitive data collected and stored within ICS/SCADA systems, including encryption and data loss prevention techniques.

Popular ICS SCADA Cybersecurity Certifications

With the increasingly competitive job market of today, certifications can make all the difference in landing you a lucrative job. Not only that, but they can also expose you to additional crucial knowledge that can aid significantly in career growth and professional development in the ICS SCADA security space. 

On that note, here are three of the most popular ICS SCADA Cybersecurity certifications

EC-Council ICS SCADA Cybersecurity Certification

Awarded by the EC-Council, the ICS SCADA Cybersecurity certification validates your foundations of security and equips you with the necessary knowledge and skills to defend critical architectures from attacks. This certification allows you to learn the relevant techniques to counter attacks that may be commonly conducted against the oil and gas IT corporate and control network.

Major Exam Domains

The key exam domains that the candidates can be expected to be tested on in the exam are as follows, along with their respective domains. Further details on each domain are laid out in the official exam blueprint:

Key Domains 
Weightage In The Exam 
Introduction to ICS/SCADA Network Defense
16%
TCIP/IP 101 
14%
Introduction to Hacking 
16%
Vulnerability Management 
13%
Standards and Regulations for Cybersecurity 
6%
Securing the ICS Network 
16%
Bridging the Air Gap
6%
Introduction to Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
13%

Global Industrial Cyber Security Professional Certification (GICSP)

Offered by the GIAC, a leader in cybersecurity training and certification, the Global Industrial Cyber Security Professional certification is a vendor-neutral certification. It focuses on the convergence of IT, engineering, and cybersecurity within industrial control systems. This certification is well-suited for professionals with a blend of IT and OT (Operational Technology) experience.

Key Exam Areas

  • Hardening & Protecting Endpoints
  • ICS Components & Architecture
  • ICS Overview & Concepts
  • ICS Program & Policy Development
  • Intelligence Gathering & Threat Modeling
  • PERA Level 0 & 1 Technology Overview and Compromise
  • PERA Level 2 & 3 Technology Overview and Compromise
  • Protocols, Communications, & Compromises
  • Risk-Based Disaster Recovery & Incident Response
  • Wireless Technologies & Compromises 
Feature
EC-Council ICS/SCADA Cybersecurity
GICSP
Focus
Securing industrial automation and control systems
Convergence of IT, engineering, and cybersecurity
Target Audience
IT security or automation professionals
IT and OT professionals
Exam Format
Multiple-choice (online)
Multiple-choice (online)
No. Of Questions
75 Questions 
82 Questions 
Exam Duration
2 hours
3 hours
Passing Score 
70%
71%
Prerequisites
None
None
Renewal
Every 3 years
Every 4 years

How To Choose The Right ICS SCADA Cybersecurity Certification

Selecting the most suitable ICS SCADA cybersecurity certification depends on several factors. Here are some of the things you should consider.

Career Goals

Consider your desired career path within ICS/SCADA security.  Are you aiming for more of a specialized role, focusing on securing control systems? In that case, the one by the EC-Council may be a better option. For a broader understanding of industrial cybersecurity, encompassing areas like risk management and incident response, the GICSP offers a comprehensive approach.

Industry Focus

Some certifications may cater to specific industries, such as manufacturing or power generation. Choosing a program that aligns with your industry interests can provide you with targeted knowledge and skills directly applicable to your work environment. For example, if you work in the power generation sector, a certification that takes a deeper dive into securing power grid infrastructure might be advantageous.

Prior Experience Level

If you’re new to the field, certifications with no prerequisites, like the EC-Council ICS SCADA Certification, can be a good starting point to establish a solid foundation in ICS/SCADA security principles. For experienced professionals, certifications with a broader scope, like the GICSP can offer deeper knowledge and validate your expertise at a more advanced level.

Time and Financial Commitment

Carefully consider the time commitment required for studying and taking the exam, as well as the associated costs of training materials, exam fees, and potentially even vendor-specific certification renewals. Striking a balance between your learning goals, budget, and available time is crucial for a successful certification journey.

How to Prepare for an ICS SCADA Cybersecurity Certification Exam

Earning ICS SCADA Cybersecurity certifications is no easy task. They often test knowledge and skills in very technical areas which takes dedication and a well-structured approach to pass. Here are some valuable preparation tips to pass ICS SCADA Cybersecurity certification exam.

1. Enroll in a Dedicated Training Course

Many certification bodies or reputable training providers offer comprehensive training courses specifically designed for the chosen ICS SCADA cybersecurity certification. These courses typically cover the exam objectives in detail, providing a structured learning experience with opportunities to clarify concepts through instructor guidance and discussions.

Enrolling in a reputable training program for ICS SCADA Cybersecurity will help you get a more tailored experience. It will allow you to learn from qualified instructors with industry expertise who can answer your questions and provide valuable insights into the certification exam preparation process. 

Here are the potential ICS SCADA Cybersecurity training programs you can sign up for:

2. Utilize Online Resources

The internet is a vast resource for exam preparation. Here are some valuable online resources to consider:

  • Official Certification Body Websites: Certification bodies often provide dedicated sections on their websites with exam outlines, study guides, and practice questions. These resources offer valuable insights directly from the creators of the exam.
  • Online Training Platforms: Several online learning platforms offer self-paced video courses and practice exams for various ICS SCADA cybersecurity certifications. These platforms provide flexibility for learning at your own pace and convenience.
  • Industry Publications and Blogs: Stay updated on the latest trends and threats in ICS/SCADA security by subscribing to relevant industry publications and blogs. These resources can offer valuable insights that may not be directly covered in the exam syllabus but can enhance your overall understanding of the field.

3. Hands-on Experience

While not always readily available, gaining hands-on experience with ICS/SCADA systems can be immensely beneficial. If possible, seek opportunities to work with simulated ICS/SCADA environments or participate in controlled lab settings that allow you to practice implementing security measures and troubleshooting potential issues. This practical experience can solidify your theoretical knowledge and provide valuable context for real-world scenarios.

4. Develop a Study Schedule

Create a realistic study schedule that allocates dedicated time for studying each topic covered in the exam. Consistency is key to retaining information effectively. Having a study schedule in place will not only help you keep a more organized study approach but will aid in effective learning and comprehensive coverage of the syllabus.

5. Focus on Active Learning

Don’t just passively read through study materials. Engage in active learning techniques like taking notes, summarizing key concepts, and practicing with practice exams and quizzes to solidify your understanding.

By following these strategies and diligently preparing, you can significantly increase your chances of successfully passing your chosen ICS SCADA cybersecurity certification exam.

In Conclusion

The demand for skilled ICS SCADA cybersecurity professionals is surging. Investing in a recognized certification in this field equips you with the knowledge and expertise to secure critical infrastructure and opens doors to a rewarding career. Therefore, choose the certification that aligns with your goals, invest in your preparation, and take charge of your future in the highly crucial space of ICS/SCADA security.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

In simpler terms, ICS/SCADA cybersecurity acts as a shield to protect industrial control systems from cyberattacks. These systems basically run our essential services, like power plants and water treatment facilities. If hackers break in, they could cause a blackout, mess with the water supply, or even create safety hazards. So, ICS/SCADA cybersecurity professionals are the ones who make sure these vital systems stay safe and secure.

While there’s no single “best” ICS certification, the ideal choice depends on your experience. Beginners can benefit from foundational courses like SANS’s ICS410, which provides core knowledge in industrial cybersecurity. Experienced professionals seeking advanced validation can pursue certifications like the GIAC GICSP, demonstrating expertise in defending critical infrastructure.

The time and cost commitment vary depending on the chosen certification and your chosen preparation method. Training courses typically range from a few days to several weeks, with associated costs. Self-paced online learning options and utilizing free resources can be more budget-friendly but require a strong sense of self-discipline. Generally, expect to invest several weeks to a few months for dedicated studying.

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