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Inmarsat Disputes IOActive Reports of Critical Flaws in Ship SATCOM

Satellite communications provider says security firm's narrative about vulnerabilities in its AmosConnect 8 shipboard email service is overblown.

Two critical flaws in a shipboard satellite communication platform from British SATCOM firm Inmarsat allow threat actors to take control of the system and potentially attack other networks on a ship, IOActive warned in a disputed report Thursday.

The vulnerabilities exist in Inmarsat's AmosConnect 8 (AC8) shipboard email client service and cannot be fixed since the company has discontinued support for the platform, IOActive said in an advisory Oct. 26.

"The vulnerabilities pose a serious security risk," IOActive said in the advisory. "Attackers might be able to obtain corporate data, take over the server to mount further attacks, or pivot within the vessel networks."

Inmarsat itself described the report as over-the-top and incorrect. "The story that IOActive have been putting out is very misleading," a spokesman for the company told Dark Reading. "The service their report focused on is no longer available and cannot be accessed by customers. The theoretical threat they identified would have been very hard to achieve," he claimed.

Inmarast's AC8 platform is a satellite communication system that enables services such as email, instant messaging, and Internet services for crewmembers onboard a ship at sea.

IOActive said it found a Blind SQL injection vulnerability and a backdoor account on AC8 that gives attackers a way to gain complete control of the server. The SQL injection error is present in the login form for the platform and would give attackers access to usernames and passwords stored in plaintext on the underlying server. The second vulnerability involves a backdoor account with full system privileges on the AmosConnect server that an attacker can access via a task manager tool using a hardcoded password in the system.

The vulnerabilities that IOActive discovered are not directly exploitable over the Internet. An attacker would require access to a ship's IT networks to take advantage of the vulnerabilities. But attackers who do gain access to the network could use the vulnerabilities to take control of the platform and use it to potentially hop on to other ship networks.

"There are several ways in which an attacker might be able to get access to that network and that highly depends on the architecture of the vessel," says Mario Ballano, principal security consultant at IOActive and the author of the report issued today. "But typical ways might include WiFi cracking, via malware on BYOD devices, via malware on USB memory sticks, via other vulnerabilities in satellite equipment," and other ways, he notes.

Typically, the different networks on a ship, such as the navigation systems network, industrial control systems network, IT network, and SATCOM network are segmented from each other. But sometimes they are not and AmosConnect could be exposed to another ship network thereby putting that at risk as well.

But according to Inmarsat, AC8 is no longer in service. The company said it had begun to retire the platform even prior to IOActive's report and had in fact informed customers the service would be terminated this July. "Inmarsat’s central server no longer accepts connections from AmosConnect 8 email clients, so customers cannot use this software even if they wished to," the company claimed.

Inmarsat said that when IOActive informed it of the vulnerabilities in early 2017, the company issued a security patch even though the product was nearing end of life. IOActive meanwhile says it found the vulnerabilities in Sep. 2016 and sent a vulnerability report to Inmarsat last October. The company claims that Inmarsat acknowledged the issues last November itself.

According to Inmarsat, the vulnerabilities that IOActive disclosed would also have been very difficult to exploit since they require direct access to a shipboard PC running the AC8 email client. "To exploit the flaws an intruder would first need to gain access to the ship and then to the computer. Remote access, while a remote possibility, would have been blocked by Inmarsat's shoreside firewalls, the company claimed.

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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