Perimeter
Guest Blog // Selected Security Content Provided By Sophos
What's This?
11/30/2011
08:38 AM
Security Insights
Security Insights
Security Insights
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%
Repost This

Unprotected SCADA Systems An Avoidable Risk

Disconnecting SCADA systems from the Internet prevents opportunistic hacking

Though the Department of Homeland Security isn’t yet ready to call the recent system failure at an Illinois water-processing plant an act of cyberterrorism -- a direct contradiction of an initial report by the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, which labeled the event “a cyber intrusion” -- the incident still calls attention to how the U.S. SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) infrastructure remains woefully unprotected.

The water pump at the Springfield utility burned out after the SCADA system cycled the pump off and on continuously until it failed, raising an alert to the operators.

Reading about this, my spidey-sense was tingling ... What? They have SCADA control systems hooked up to the public Internet? And they are running phpMyAdmin!?

It would appear it is common practice these days to connect these sensitive critical-infrastructure systems to the public Internet and use COTS (Common Off The Shelf) software to manage them.

Convenience and price are always desirable to those responsible for managing these systems, but this is bordering on criminally negligent when you are responsible for our water, power, gas, and other sensitive utilities.

Quoting Ira Winkler, a penetration-testing consultant and advocate for better SCADA security: “The overriding weakness of these supervisory control and data acquisition systems is that they are ultimately connected to the Internet. They were originally designed to be set up as isolated, but as businesses and utilities using them grew, they connected to their enterprise networks, which in turn connected to the Internet."

That means if attackers can hack into the enterprise network, then from there they can hack into the SCADA network. "I don't know why this is acceptable," Winkler says. "It's devastatingly stupid."

I can’t help but agree with his assessment. In fact, when you drill down far enough, you find there are no regulations on the books that compel owners of these networks to properly secure them. As Winkler also points out, there are guidelines and recommendations and voluntary standards, but nothing with “legal bite” that can issue “penalties for failing to comply.”

The truth is, there are utility companies operating right now where their SCADA systems are hooked up to the Internet, tempting cyber hacks along the same lines with what was reported to have occurred at the Springfield water plant. Manufacturers, integrators, and operators are all at fault here; if a random hacker can break in without any real effort, then can you imagine what a determined adversary might be able to accomplish?

Chester Wisniewski is a senior security adviser at Sophos Canada

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Flash Poll
Current Issue
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2011-0460
Published: 2014-04-16
The init script in kbd, possibly 1.14.1 and earlier, allows local users to overwrite arbitrary files via a symlink attack on /dev/shm/defkeymap.map.

CVE-2011-0993
Published: 2014-04-16
SUSE Lifecycle Management Server before 1.1 uses world readable postgres credentials, which allows local users to obtain sensitive information via unspecified vectors.

CVE-2011-3180
Published: 2014-04-16
kiwi before 4.98.08, as used in SUSE Studio Onsite 1.2 before 1.2.1 and SUSE Studio Extension for System z 1.2 before 1.2.1, allows attackers to execute arbitrary commands via shell metacharacters in the path of an overlay file, related to chown.

CVE-2011-4089
Published: 2014-04-16
The bzexe command in bzip2 1.0.5 and earlier generates compressed executables that do not properly handle temporary files during extraction, which allows local users to execute arbitrary code by precreating a temporary directory.

CVE-2011-4192
Published: 2014-04-16
kiwi before 4.85.1, as used in SUSE Studio Onsite 1.2 before 1.2.1 and SUSE Studio Extension for System z 1.2 before 1.2.1, allows attackers to execute arbitrary commands as demonstrated by "double quotes in kiwi_oemtitle of .profile."

Best of the Web