SCADA – supervisory control and data acquisition

I doubt most people heard about the water treatment facility that had their SCADA system hacked a few days ago that ultimately led to the facility to shutdown for several hours in Illinois.  Most Americans don’t even know what this system does for us or just how critical it is to our daily lives until its too late and the systems are offline.

As the title suggests, SCADA stands for supervisory control and data acquisition.  In simple terms, it is a networked systems of switches, monitoring devices, control systems, and primary computer systems.  All of these together make it possible to run a facility, like a water treatment plant, without people physically having to be on-site.  The following industries have used or are currently using SCADA systems in their facilities:

  • electricity
  • water treatment
  • nuclear power
  • natural gas
  • petroleum
  • chemical

Now, hold on, I haven’t even gotten to the scary part yet.  Most of these industries have one thing in common.  They are in whole or part regulated by the Federal Government that use their own set of SCADA systems that, you guessed it, monitor the industrial SCADA systems on-site.  Sort of like a watchdog for the watchdogs.  Here is the really scary part……  they’re online!  As in, most of these systems with exception for most nuclear plants and chemical plants, can be accessed remotely from any computer with a network connection and credentials to enter the system.  The systems that can’t be accessed online are accessible if onsite, which for anyone determined enough is, in theory, possible.  Live Free or Die Hard was about just this very topic, but veiled under what they called a “Firesale” that enabled them to steal credit information.

Finally, the horrific part of this whole thing.  Gaining access to the main SCADA system could potentially allow a single hacker to take down every other SCADA system in its network.  This would mean, in simple terms, that you would be without electricity, water, natural gas, gasoline, or any petro-chemical that goes into literally hundreds of consumer products.  The entire system, although speculation, is decades old and in need of major upgrading and fortification from modern threats.  In fact, most of the IT systems used by the Federal Government are decades old and archaic when compared to modern entry-level standards.  Did you know that the military is STILL using a hardened version of Windows XP on all of their computer systems?  Windows XP is 12 years old!!

We know how to use these systems for damage.  The StuxNet virus the United States released on Iran SCADA systems sabotaged the centrifuges in their Uranium Enrichment Facilities to prevent them from building nuclear weapons.  The only reason it got out that it was even developed was that it affected SCADA systems outside of Iran in several neighboring countries through the Internet.

The Internet.  I’ve been aware of the fact that we don’t know what we’ve created or how it will develop.  I truly believe that artificial intelligence will be born out of the Internet.  Whether it takes over the world, wipes out the human race, or turns into a Terminator style future is anyone’s guess.

Technical details for this post were obtained from the below source:

Sleeping at movies, not quite

Driving into work today I thought of several things I wanted to talk about, things that were bothering me.  Now, as I sit staring at the white screen, my mind is blank.  I guess that, in itself, is something.  An ability that G is absolutely jealous of….  especially when attempting to get to sleep at night.  Her brain, always on like a datacenter server, never turns off.  I don’t know if its because I’m a guy, or if I just have an ability she doesn’t, but I can literally stop all brain cells from firing.  A figurative off switch if you will.

Switching gears for a second, I’ve been watching movies online that have a science-fiction “end of the world” type of feel to them.  The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, The Core, Armageddon, 2012, etc. etc.  The list goes on.  Why am I fascinated with that theme?  The fact I have been reading sites that dedicate themselves to the 12/21/12 Mayan calendar prediction isn’t helping matters.  The one movie that I found incredibly interesting was “The Moon.”  About a future where humans figured out fusion technology with Helium3 harvested from the moon.  Its a complete 180 from my usual movie fare.  I highly recommend it and the twist in the movie is actually quite scary as its something that we, as humans, have tinkered with in the past but have rejected for the time being.  Watch it and you’ll understand.

Now, back to the original topic, sleeping.  My sleep patterns lately have been very erratic and not at all normal.  One night I can sleep 10 hours, other nights I sleep barely 4 hours.  There really isn’t any real reason I can decipher other than every once in a while I lose my ability to turn off my brain.  G would be happy to hear that, so she’d have someone to talk to rather than stare at the ceiling for several hours each night.  One night this past week, I outlined a really excellent idea for a short story or a book; going so far even to write it down so I wouldn’t forget some of the details that made it excellent.  Having been down this road before, I am keen to the fact that I have a motivation problem with things taking longer than a few days to complete…..  I blame that on being male 🙂  But the idea is so good, it might transcend my procrastination.

What do you, my loyal 2 followers think?  Make a jump at transcending my human male characteristics?

A sea of apps…. I’m drowning!

I’ve literally spent the last 2 hours going through the Windows Phone Marketplace (iTunes for Microsoft phones if you don’t know) and have come to several conclusions:

  1. It’s a terrible waste of time to “browse” looking for something interesting.
  2. There are thousands of apps to review (and this is the smallest store, iTunes is hundreds of thousands).
  3. Some developers have real large balls charging for an app that has a free equivalent from another developer.
  4. The thought process that goes into developing an app needs to be revisited.  A flashlight app, really?

I feel cheated out of the two hours I spent looking for an app that I didn’t know I needed.  You’re saying right now…

“How many apps did he download and install?”

Short answer is one.  Long answer is I downloaded an app that looked interesting, got reviewed well by fellow downloaders, and it was free to try.  I figured what do I have to lose, right?  So I did it, downloaded it.  I got so excited to click on it and see what it was all about and guess what happened?  My phone crashed.  Literally, screen went black.  Was this what my two hours culminated into?  It certainly was a moment where the word “F**********%%%%%%%%%%%%%%kkkkkkkkk!” was more than relevant and dare I say, required.

I’ve had the phone for 8 months now, and up until this moment of offending crash-i-ness, I’ve never rebooted or turned the thing off.  Probably the most stable phone I’ve ever owned (a post for another day though).  I took off the case, unclicked the batter cover, and did the battery pull that I hoped would return my phone to the living.  It worked, thankfully, but as soon as the it returned to life, I promptly uninstalled the cancerous app.

Were all those people wrong?  Was it the reflection of my face in the screen protector that made the app decide it didn’t want to be on my phone?  I didn’t know what to say on the feedback…..  would I dare be the first person to say the app sucked?  I decided to keep my comments to myself, as I truly didn’t know if the app sucked or not, it never ran for me to form an honest opinion.

What I did instead was download the Microsoft Developer SDK 7.1 for my phone, paid $9 for a dev unlock code, and unlock my phone for what will certainly be a time sucker hobby.  I decided in that moment of battery pulling and stewing over the app failure that I would learn how to develop apps that make sense for me, and if they worked, throw them up on the Marketplace site for others to use.

After all, there have to be others that use their phones like “its a tool that makes my life easier to live” rather than people that use their phones like “look at this, my phone lets me see in the dark”….  it gets me every time people showing me their flashlight app and I pull out my LED flashlight with the comment “this didn’t cost me $300 and a 2 year contract.”

Half-assed Tech

I should know better by now than to trust that technology, any technology, is implemented in such a way that its actually trustworthy enough to do what you expect it to do.  It seems that the more complex and cumbersome something is to install, administer, and maintain the harder it is to have it do what you need it to do.  More often than not it fails when you need it most.

Take my foray into technology gone wrong tonight.  Long story short, rebuilt a server OS from 32-bit to 64-bit, re-attached a SAN (storage attached network) and it was blank.  I know there was almost 250GB’s of data on that drive BEFORE I did the rebuild, so you can imagine my dismay and shock when it re-appeared as blank.  No production data, don’t pass go, your ass in the fire despite it not being your fault…  you get the idea.

Panic mode set in, and I started paging and calling everyone I could to try and figure out what happened.  As I was talking to the guy that actually runs the SAN systems (Clariion if anyone is interested), the data just re-appeared.  I didn’t reboot, rescan, or do anything of a nature that would trigger the data to stop by and say “Hi” to me again.  It felt like a warm blanket got pulled over me on a cold morning where you forgot to close the windows the night before……

Regardless of whether the data came back in the end or not, there is no excuse why a billion dollar company, not being named, should have technology systems in place that are so crude.  The unfortunate thing is that this scenario is played out hundreds of times around the world for the exact same reason.  No company likes to spend money on things that suck its bottom line like a vampire for a made up number that is referred to in Accounting circles as “return on investment”.  With that said, I believe that there are three schools of thought where you spend money for two reasons:

  1. IT guy sees a cool new technology, pitches it to management and gets a green light without knowing the true cost of being bleeding edge technology leaders.
  2. IT department utilizes resources and decides the best fit for their company and makes wise purchases.
  3. Company is stuck in the mode of thinking “this is how we’ve always done it” and refuses to purchase anything other than old parts off eBay to repair aging infrastructure.

Most companies, even though they would never admit it, fall into #3 almost always.  Companies like Google fall into #2.  Small companies with younger employees generally fall into #1, until they realize its expensive and morph into #2 or #3 over time.  I don’t know where my company falls currently, as they’re so big its hard to judge.  Based on some of the health reports I’ve seen lately, I think they’re in danger of falling into the #3 pit to hell where it’ll be time for me to jump ship looking for the #2 golden opportunity.

Ok, I feel better now 🙂

Change at the speed of technology

I think the hardest part for most people to cope with when it comes to technology in general is the speed at which it changes.  Take my obvious change of template design.  Small potatoes when you consider the ground breaking work being done right now at most companies, but my Mom would have an issue.

“I liked the old design” she would say.

“I got tired of it” I would say.

And it would go back and forth like that for about 5 minutes until I got bored with it and moved the conversation onto something else not related to the design of my blog.

As I sit here typing on my Core i5 laptop that barely has a scratch on it (still newish), I think back to the very first computer I ever owned.  When I say owned, I mean the first computer I purchased with my own money that I earned on my own without anyone elses help in purchase.  A whopping $3,000 garnered me a 486 DX2 with 4MB of RAM and a 250MB hard drive.  Had a color VGA monitor and a dot matrix printer, both purchased separately.  Yeah, they did that back in the day…. annoying.  Anyway, that little purchase kept me working well for about 8 years before I sold it to a friend for a fraction of what I paid for it and they used it for 5 more years.  Now you ask how is that possible?  I’ll tell you.

Computers back then were built much better, designed to last for years, and had components primarily made in the United States.  The computers now are the polar opposite of that.  I think they woke up and took a queue from light bulb manufacturers where they make stuff to last only 2-4 years before you need to purchase new stuff.  When have you ever picked up a 5+ year old laptop and said “this thing still works great”?  Chances are, if you use computers like I do, its not too often.  Once the shiny newness wears off, I treat computers the same way I treat any other tool.  My old workhorse Dell Inspiron 1200 lasted several more years than it should have and the poor keyboard paid the price.  All missing keys and stuff, it practically cried when I would open it up and start using it.

My new laptop hasn’t seen that type of punishment yet, but I’m sure when it does its mostly Chinese parts will not bear the brunt of my hammer fingers and rough treatment in and out of the backpack.


First, sorry for the gap in posts.  This time of year has always been quite chaotic and finding time to sit down and write let alone thinking about what you want to write at the same time is sometimes next to impossible.  With Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in a row without much of a break is tough for almost everyone.  I’m sure anyone with kids can relate completely to what I’m trying to say.

That brings me to my first thought and I’ve been working on this for years.  My career in technology, some 14 years, has turned my thought processes very logical and as a result my actions seem methodical.  I approach most “life things” with that type of logical thinking almost automatically without much thought to it.  For work, which is appropriate, it works fine and lets me get a lot of work done rather quickly.  The problem lies in when I do the same for non-work stuff.  Anyone with a family (all of us) knows that logic often doesn’t apply to most situations and results in descriptive words towards oneself from others like withdrawn, angry, depressed, etc.  Negativity sucks, especially when its not an intention outcome.

What brought me to this brilliant flash of the obvious (pan to head) was the latest problems I’ve had with my brother.  An exact polar opposite of me, generally we never agree with each other and have that pesky stubborn streak from Dad that prevents us from seeing the others point of view.  It’s led to a strained relationship and now that kids are involved on both sides, has led to an isolationist attitude where the line “Well, if he’s not going to come to xyz, then I’m not going to his abc!”  Ridiculous when you actually look back and reflect on it, but in the heat of the moment it seems like the right decision.  Neither one of us wants to be the bigger person and step outside of our boxes and make the first attempt to sort of agree to disagree.  That is, until now.

It’s sad when thinking about it and putting it into words that this point has actually been reached.  One of those things I imagine that we’ll both look back on in 20 years and have a “remember when…” conversation.  But that doesn’t change what I know I need to do to get past it.  I’m willing to forgive the things that has made me angry in the past few years to get us both to this point.  I’m willing to step into a role that doesn’t have my every decision pitted against what exactly he would NOT want me to do.  I’m willing, period.  My fear is that he won’t be willing.  He won’t want to make things better and will immediately become defensive to the point where no progress will be made.  He will be pushed farther away than we already are…..

The worst part of all this is that my parents are stuck in the middle.  Brother is in PA, I’m in PA, parents are in North Carolina.  When they visit, its a battle sometimes to get time with them.  I’ve resorted to falling back on the main reason they’re visiting, and then backing off when it logically doesn’t involve me (see previous comments).  It often makes them think that I’m mad or don’t want to see them, an unfortunate side effect of being knee jerk logical.  I’ve tried to explain it to them, but they’re my parents, all they see is their first born no matter what I try to explain.

Wow, its out of my head and I’m still as confused on what to do next.  Whatever my decision, its going to be soon and definitely before Christmas because stuff like this, once its in my head, doesn’t turn out well when given some festering time.  Depending on how it goes once I do make the final decision, might make it on here.  That is after all the main reason I do this online.  Technology at its finest!