ICS Mess: US Industrial Systems The Most Exposed

New data shows vulnerable ICS equipment even as vendors are improving security.

Hundreds of thousands of industrial control systems (ICS) worldwide are available on the public Internet via a Shodan search, nearly 60,000 of them in the US, according to a new report published yesterday.

Kaspersky Lab’s report says the around 221,000 exposed ICS devices run on some 188,019 host systems from 133 different vendors across 170 countries, with Tridium (11.1%), Sierra Wireless (8.1%), and Beck IPC (6.7%) as the biggest offenders. The security vendor also compiled data on ICS vulnerabilities that have been reported publicly and found that 189 were reported in 2015, up slightly from 2014, with about half in the critical category and 42% in the medium-severity category. Most of the vulns were in Siemens, Schneider Electric, and Hospira products.

Exploits are available for some 26 of the reported bugs overall; exploits are not necessarily needed to attack many of the devices that were found with default credentials. The nature of the flaws reflect the relative immaturity of secure coding of these systems: 9% are buffer overflows; 7% hard-coded credentials; and 7% cross-site scripting.

But despite the ominous data, the reality is that major ICS/SCADA vendors are actually finally stepping up their security game. Vendors like Siemens issue security updates regularly; whether ICS operators apply those patches, however, depends on whether the risk of an attack via the vulnerable software is higher than the risk of potentially disrupting a plant’s operations.

Kaspersky Lab’s Sergey Gordeychik, who co-authored the Kaspersky report and is a former independent ICS/SCADA researcher, says large ICS vendors such as ABB, GE, Honeywell, and Siemens, now have mature vulnerability management processes in place, as well as secure development lifecycle programs.

Some ICS vendors are starting to employ “'secure by default' configuration,” he says. The new SMA Sunny Solar Webbox for data logging and control of alternative energy systems, for example, doesn’t allow connections from the Internet, he says.

Some 85% of the published flaws have fixes available, with the rest either unpatched or only partially fixed, Kaspersky Lab says. The Sunny Webbox systems found in the Shodan search reflect the lack of patching by ICS operators/owners, the researchers say.

Dale Peterson, president of Digital Bond, an ICS/SCADA consultancy, says the number of ICS bugs that are disclosed publicly doesn’t really reflect the state of ICS product security: it’s the result of just what researchers are testing.

“The number of ICS vulnerabilities publicly disclosed are only a reflection of researcher interest in the issue and the availability of the software/hardware for their testing. It has no reflection of the security state of the ICS software and firmware,” Peterson says.

The total number of ICS vulns could triple within a year, he says, if a few researchers invested the time and money into purchasing and testing more equipment. ICS products today are chock-full of basic and typically exploitable bugs, he notes.

“Look at the numbers another way: the number of vulnerabilities has been flat since 2012. Many researchers have become bored looking at the poor code quality. Others choose to no longer report what they find. The only other data that would be interesting to pull and analyze from the disclosures is related to the researchers. Look at how people move in and out of this field, what countries they come from, etc.,” he says. “My guess is you will find a new person comes in, reports some bugs for about 18 months, and then moves on.”

Meanwhile, Kaspersky’s Gordeychik says the Shodan findings of big names in electricity, aerospace, airports, oil and gas, metallurgy, chemical, automotive, drinks and food, and smart cities, all exposed on the Net was a bit “scary.”

“As usual, we shared this information with the owners/CERTs and hope this will help them to improve security,” he says.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief 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 Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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