Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

5/22/2013
05:23 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

New Congressional Report Illuminates Attackers' Focus On Electric Grid

Regular attack attempts on electricity providers, malware infections threatening the power grid

It took less than five minutes for the attacker to generate an exploit with Metasploit, load it onto a pipeline compressor plant laptop via a USB stick, and then commandeer the machine. The hack was only a test, but the demonstration showed just how simple it can be to compromise a power plant.

The demonstration conducted by Brazilian SCADA/ICS security firm TI Safe yesterday at a security training course in Florida may have had shades of Stuxnet -- which also is believed to have spread via a USB stick -- but it was more about demonstrating how all types of malware threaten power plants and plant floors, regardless of Stuxnet, its creators say.

While the long shadow of Stuxnet indeed has served as a wakeup call for power companies, new data shows that many U.S. electric companies are facing attack attempts on a daily basis. In addition, most are still meeting only mandatory security requirements under NERC post-Stuxnet, not any of the voluntary practices, according to a new report published today by Reps. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif. The report, basically part of an effort to help bolster support for proposed legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives that gives FERC more authority to protect the power grid, also illustrates how attackers are regularly pounding away at power companies' networks.

More than 12 of the 113 utilities that responded to the Congressional survey say they face either daily, constant, or frequent attack attempts, such as malware infections, phishing, and "unfriendly probes" into their networks. One utility says it faces 10,000 attack attempts per month. Multiple providers say they are under siege constantly by malware and other "entities" trying to gain a foothold into their internal systems, and a provider in the Midwest says it's network is probed daily for vulnerabilities: "Much of this activity is automated and dynamic in nature – able to adapt to what is discovered during its probing process," the provider said in its response to the Congressional survey.

Security experts for some time now have been warning that power plants and other SCADA/ICS environments are prime candidates for malware infections, and that they're seeing more of those incidents all the time.

"It's not only theory -- this happens," says Marcelo Branquinho, executive director of TiSafe, who helped create the USB malware infection demo for training purposes. "People can put plants down. It's not so complicated."

Branquinho says Stuxnet isn't the big threat to power companies: It's Conficker, Slammer, and other just-won't-die-off malware that has infected some of these environments. "At the end of the day, there are more cases of [regular] malware ... [and] equipment becoming damaged and human errors making problems in plants than Stuxnet," he says.

Malware infections can be debilitating for a power plant. One plant -- a customer of TiSafe's -- in Brazil went offline for two to three weeks due to a malware infection, he says.

[Embedded software prototype operates under the 'new normal' that many SCADA environments have already been breached. See New Algorithm Lets SCADA Devices Detect, Deflect Attacks .]

Meanwhile, Markey and Waxman's report says 91 percent of independently owned utilities, 83 percent of municipal or cooperative utilities, and 80 percent of federal entities say they comply with mandatory NERC Stuxnet security standards. When it comes to voluntary Stuxnet security steps, 62.5 percent of the federal entities comply, 44 percent of municipal or cooperative utilities comply, and just 21 percent of the independent ones do.

Vivek Shivananda, CEO of Rsam, a governance risk and compliance (GRC) firm, says while the data in the Congressional report was no shock, it did provide some data points on what utilities are and are not doing security-wise. "What jumped out at me was the number of companies that categorize their assets is very low. There's a level of objectivity of criticality: The minute you call an asset critical, there are a bunch of compliance needs [for] it," Shivananda says.

Most enterprises, in general, conduct their compliance steps because they have to. "Compliance is great, but it also drives customers to behave in a certain way that satisfies the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. They want to pass the audit and comply," Shivananda says.

Los Alamos National Laboratory director Charlie McMillan said in a speech today in front of energy executives in National Harbor, Md., that securing the grid is even more crucial today. "If you look back at the last year, there were several hundred attacks on critical infrastructure. More than 40 percent of those attacks were on the energy sector," he said.

"In the time it takes me to say this sentence, the external firewalls of Los Alamos will be challenged hundreds of times by adversaries. Our systems, and yours, are very attractive," McMillan said.

The full "Electric Grid Vulnerability: Industry Responses Reveal Security Gaps" report is available here (PDF) for download.

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 the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
mcashman060
50%
50%
mcashman060,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2013 | 8:23:56 PM
re: New Congressional Report Illuminates Attackers' Focus On Electric Grid
The PDF link doesn't work.
44% of Security Threats Start in the Cloud
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/19/2020
Zero-Factor Authentication: Owning Our Data
Nick Selby, Chief Security Officer at Paxos Trust Company,  2/19/2020
Firms Improve Threat Detection but Face Increasingly Disruptive Attacks
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  2/20/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
The concept of application security is well known, but application security testing and remediation processes remain unbalanced. Most organizations are confident in their approach to AppSec, although others seem to have no approach at all. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-9351
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-23
An issue was discovered in SmartClient 12.0. If an unauthenticated attacker makes a POST request to /tools/developerConsoleOperations.jsp or /isomorphic/IDACall with malformed XML data in the _transaction parameter, the server replies with a verbose error showing where the application resides (the a...
CVE-2020-9352
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-23
An issue was discovered in SmartClient 12.0. Unauthenticated exploitation of blind XXE can occur in the downloadWSDL feature by sending a POST request to /tools/developerConsoleOperations.jsp with a valid payload in the _transaction parameter.
CVE-2020-9353
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-23
An issue was discovered in SmartClient 12.0. The Remote Procedure Call (RPC) loadFile provided by the console functionality on the /tools/developerConsoleOperations.jsp (or /isomorphic/IDACall) URL is affected by unauthenticated Local File Inclusion via directory-traversal sequences in the elem XML ...
CVE-2020-9354
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-23
An issue was discovered in SmartClient 12.0. The Remote Procedure Call (RPC) saveFile provided by the console functionality on the /tools/developerConsoleOperations.jsp (or /isomorphic/IDACall) URL allows an unauthenticated attacker to overwrite files via vectors involving an XML comment and /.. pat...
CVE-2020-9355
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-23
danfruehauf NetworkManager-ssh before 1.2.11 allows privilege escalation because extra options are mishandled.