Timeline with SCADA

First generation: “Monolithic”

In the first generation, computing was done by mainframe computers. Networks did not exist at the time SCADA was developed. Thus SCADA systems were independent systems with no connectivity to other systems. Wide Area Networks were later designed by RTU vendors to communicate with the RTU. The communication protocols used were often proprietary at that time. The first-generation SCADA system was redundant since a back-up mainframe system was connected at the bus level and was used in the event of failure of the primary mainframe system.

Second generation: “Distributed”

The processing was distributed across multiple stations which were connected through a LAN and they shared information in real time. Each station was responsible for a particular task thus making the size and cost of each station less than the one used in First Generation. The network protocols used were still mostly proprietary, which led to significant security problems for any SCADA system that received attention from a hacker. Since the protocols were proprietary, very few people beyond the developers and hackers knew enough to determine how secure a SCADA installation was. Since both parties had invested interests in keeping security issues quiet, the security of a SCADA installation was often badly overestimated, if it was considered at all.

Third generation: “Networked”

These are the current generation SCADA systems which use open system architecture rather than a vendor-controlled proprietary environment. The SCADA system utilizes open standards and protocols, thus distributing functionality across a WAN rather than a LAN. It is easier to connect third party peripheral devices like printers, disk drives, and tape drives due to the use of open architecture. WAN protocols such as Internet Protocol (IP) are used for communication between the master station and communications equipment. Due to the usage of standard protocols and the fact that many networked SCADA systems are accessible from the Internet; the systems are potentially vulnerable to remote cyber-attacks. On the other hand, the usage of standard protocols and security techniques means that standard security improvements are applicable to the SCADA systems, assuming they receive timely maintenance and updates.