Attacks/Breaches
1/16/2014
03:53 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

The PLC As An ICS/SCADA Hacking Tool

'PLCpwn' hacking tool tucked inside a legitimate programmable logic controller can shut down plant systems -- via a text message

S4x14 CONFERENCE -- Miami -- A researcher has rigged a programmable logic controller (PLC) with a low-cost hacking tool that can shut down a process control network with a text message.

The so-called PLCpwn prototype took Digital Bond researcher Stephen Hilt less than two weeks and about $400 to build; it uses existing Metasploit attack modules that previously had been created by his firm. Hilt, who gave details on the tool here today, said he got the inspiration for the tool from a DARPA-sponsored hacking tool built on a power strip, called Power Pwn. "It was for remote access to the network via a device that has a likeness to ordinary power [equipment]," he said. "We were always joking around and said, 'What if this was a PLC?'"

PLCpwn was a natural progression in a post-Stuxnet world. "You know how it goes once you learn from Stuxnet," says Ralph Langner, founder of Langner Communications. "But what you really want to do to infiltrate is to compromise contractors" or the supply chain, Langner said.

Idaho National Laboratory, meanwhile, has been working on algorithms and coding tricks to miniaturize attack code so it can hide on a small embedded CPU. Jason Larsen, an INL security researcher, spoke here yesterday about that research.

"Larsen [has] basically the same approach and idea: a small device you can embed somewhere and talk to that device using radio signals. They were thinking in the same direction," Langner said.

Dale Peterson, CEO of Digital Bond, said he had challenged Hilt to come up with a small-slot attack module and to use text messaging to set off a simulated attack, using modules like the "CPU STOP" Metasploit module his team had previously written as part of its Project Basecamp vulnerability research.

"When you talk about nation-states not wanting to go mess around with relying on going through security perimeters," then ICS/SCADA operators need to test for these weaknesses, Peterson said.

Hilt was able to use Digital Bond's in-house Allen-Bradley ControLogix PLC for the experiment. After a little trial and error with the tool platform, he ended up using 5-volt Raspberry Pi board. For communication to the device, he used a DualComm Tap, plus a DroneCell card for drone projects that basically serves as a cell phone for text and phone communications. He also wrote some Ruby scripts to allow PLCpwn to receive text messages. In its first iteration, PLCpwn can shut down an industrial subnet with a text message.

"It can cause a large disruption with a single text message," Hilt said. "It will sweep an entire subnet with STOP CPU," and is capable of data exfiltration and injection-style attacks, he says.

The attack tool basically lets an attacker bypass perimeter security and air gaps as well, he says. "If I could do it, how much could a motivated attacker do? A well-funded one would miniaturize the hardware, customize the firmware, and pay more attention to the physical appearance and [write] more exploits," he said.

[A security researcher has discovered a pair of zero-day vulnerabilities in a popular family of Siemens industrial control system switches that could allow an attacker to take over the network devices without a password. See Zero-Day Flaws Found, Patched In Siemens Switches.]

Hilt said he's planning to rewrite the code for faster performance, as well as create more scripts for different attack vectors. He's also working with a friend on standing up a 3G cell tower for out-of-band communications, he says.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
Partner Perspectives
What's This?
In a digital world inundated with advanced security threats, Intel Security seeks to transform how we live and work to keep our information secure. Through hardware and software development, Intel Security delivers robust solutions that integrate security into every layer of every digital device. In combining the security expertise of McAfee with the innovation, performance, and trust of Intel, this vision becomes a reality.

As we rely on technology to enhance our everyday and business life, we must too consider the security of the intellectual property and confidential data that is housed on these devices. As we increase the number of devices we use, we increase the number of gateways and opportunity for security threats. Intel Security takes the “security connected” approach to ensure that every device is secure, and that all security solutions are seamlessly integrated.
Featured Writers
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading's October Tech Digest
Fast data analysis can stymie attacks and strengthen enterprise security. Does your team have the data smarts?
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-7877
Published: 2014-10-30
Unspecified vulnerability in the kernel in HP HP-UX B.11.31 allows local users to cause a denial of service via unknown vectors.

CVE-2014-3051
Published: 2014-10-29
The Internet Service Monitor (ISM) agent in IBM Tivoli Composite Application Manager (ITCAM) for Transactions 7.1 and 7.2 before 7.2.0.3 IF28, 7.3 before 7.3.0.1 IF30, and 7.4 before 7.4.0.0 IF18 does not verify X.509 certificates from SSL servers, which allows man-in-the-middle attackers to spoof s...

CVE-2014-3668
Published: 2014-10-29
Buffer overflow in the date_from_ISO8601 function in the mkgmtime implementation in libxmlrpc/xmlrpc.c in the XMLRPC extension in PHP before 5.4.34, 5.5.x before 5.5.18, and 5.6.x before 5.6.2 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (application crash) via (1) a crafted first argument t...

CVE-2014-3669
Published: 2014-10-29
Integer overflow in the object_custom function in ext/standard/var_unserializer.c in PHP before 5.4.34, 5.5.x before 5.5.18, and 5.6.x before 5.6.2 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (application crash) or possibly execute arbitrary code via an argument to the unserialize function ...

CVE-2014-3670
Published: 2014-10-29
The exif_ifd_make_value function in exif.c in the EXIF extension in PHP before 5.4.34, 5.5.x before 5.5.18, and 5.6.x before 5.6.2 operates on floating-point arrays incorrectly, which allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (heap memory corruption and application crash) or possibly exec...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Follow Dark Reading editors into the field as they talk with noted experts from the security world.