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.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

8/5/2011
01:50 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Siemens Shows Up For Black Hat Demo Of SCADA Hack

NSS Labs researcher Dillon Beresford shows holes in Siemens programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that could lead to attacks

BLACK HAT USA 2011 -- Las Vegas -- A researcher who discovered major holes in Siemens' programmable logic controllers (PLCs) finally got his day on stage to reveal them after having to pull a planned presentation on the vulnerabilities earlier this year due to concerns of possible risk to human life -- and a Siemens computer emergency response team (CERT) member was on hand for the demo here.

Click here for more of Dark Reading's Black Hat articles.

Dillon Beresford, a researcher with NSS Labs, showed a backdoor in Siemens S7-300, S7-400, and S7-1200 devices that allowed him to get inside and capture passwords and reprogram PLC logic in such a way that he could shut down the systems altogether or cause them to eventually crash. He staged a live demonstration of how he could control the Siemens devices, which are used in power and manufacturing plants worldwide.

Beresford had canceled his planned talk at TakedownCon 2011 in Dallas at the eleventh hour amid safety concerns, and provided ICS-CERT and Siemens with details of the vulnerabilities and PoC exploits.

Thomas Brandstetter, acting head of Siemens Product CERT, took the stage at Black Hat briefly with Beresford to confirm that Siemens was working on fixing the flaws in its devices. Brandstetter, who noted that he is not an official corporate Siemens spokesperson, in a press briefing after the talk said the company needs "time to go after those vulnerabilities" and to ensure that any fixes to the products don't negatively impact plant operations.

"Siemens created a product CERT eight months ago to handle vulnerabilities in its products and to work with the security community," Brandstetter said.

Meanwhile, it took Beresford, who says he's no SCADA expert, only about two-and-half hours to write code to exploit the backdoor in the Siemens PLCs. He found a hard-coded password -- "Basisk," German for "basic" -- and was then able to open a command shell: "That allowed me to do other things," such as perform a memory dump, capture passwords, and reprogram the programmable logic, he says.

The backdoor, which likely was put in place for diagnostics purposes, could allow attackers to get inside and perform arbitrary commands on the systems and intercept any communications coming to the PLC, he says. Beresford wrote a Metasploit module for the hack.

In a lighter moment in his research, Beresford says he also found an "Easter egg" of animated dancing monkeys in the Siemens firmware. So he had shirts with the dancing monkeys made for himself and Siemens for Black Hat, and Siemens' Brandstetter gamely wore his to the session, with the word "PWND" emblazoned on the back.

"In the beginning [of the vulnerability disclosure], the Siemens PR team didn't talk to the engineering team," Beresford says, but that has since changed. "I give [Siemens] a lot of credit for not trying to pull my talk."

Beresford says there are plenty of PLCs connected to the Internet, whether operators are aware of them or not. "I'm not here to freak you out. But an attack on PLCs for 24 hours could cause it to blow up a plant," he says.

The bottom line is that it's not that difficult to wrest control of these devices. Beresford says his research debunks theories by experts, such as Ralph Langner, that it would take a major nation-state to pull off a devastating power grid hack. Although Beresford didn't write any exploit code, his proof-of-concept could be easily parlayed into a worm-borne attack similar to the way Stuxnet spread.

"This creates an awareness that not only nation-states [can hack SCADA systems], but it's now in the hands of researchers, and it's only a matter of time," Beresford says. "Someone could use it to cause damage to control systems."

But Beresford's hack is actually more streamlined than Stuxnet was: His went directly at the PLC. "I directly attacked the PLC, unlike Stuxnet," Beresford says. "Stuxnet pivoted off of an engineering workstation. I'm not sure why they did that -- they didn't need to go to that trouble. They probably wanted something on that workstation."

At the heart of the holes in the Siemens devices are the lack of access control to them, which, like other PLC systems, use the 802.3 Ethernet Profibus and Profinet LAN protocols, which communicate via TSAP over TCP Port 102. TSAP transmits packets in plain text, too. TSAP, like TCP, is an older protocol that was not created with security in mind. So it's a matter of PLC manufacturers better locking them down. "The protocols are not broken -- it's the lack of access control," Beresford says.

It's not just Siemens SCADA systems that are at risk of such attacks. Jonathan Pollet, a SCADA security expert and founder and principal consultant at Red Tiger Security, says the threat is "systemic across all PLCs."

The researchers say it's likely these attacks could also work against GE, Rockwell, and other SCADA products that run the same communications protocols. The evolution of open systems and open protocols among these devices has left the door open for malicious activity, Pollet says. "And we don't have the capability to log forensic information in these products," 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 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
Data Leak Week: Billions of Sensitive Files Exposed Online
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/10/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: Our Endpoint Protection system is a little outdated... 
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-19782
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
The FTP client in AceaXe Plus 1.0 allows a buffer overflow via a long EHLO response from an FTP server.
CVE-2019-19777
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
stb_image.h (aka the stb image loader) 2.23, as used in libsixel and other products, has a heap-based buffer over-read in stbi__load_main.
CVE-2019-19778
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
An issue was discovered in libsixel 1.8.2. There is a heap-based buffer over-read in the function load_sixel at loader.c.
CVE-2019-16777
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Versions of the npm CLI prior to 6.13.4 are vulnerable to an Arbitrary File Overwrite. It fails to prevent existing globally-installed binaries to be overwritten by other package installations. For example, if a package was installed globally and created a serve binary, any subsequent installs of pa...
CVE-2019-16775
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Versions of the npm CLI prior to 6.13.3 are vulnerable to an Arbitrary File Write. It is possible for packages to create symlinks to files outside of thenode_modules folder through the bin field upon installation. A properly constructed entry in the package.json bin field would allow a package publi...