CyberX Reveals a New Zero-Day Vulnerability that Can Shut Down Operational Networks

The vulnerability, FrostyURL, was discovered in a Rockwell Automation PLC and was validated by the ICS-CERT

October 29, 2015

2 Min Read


Atlanta, GA, October 28, 2015 – CyberX reveals a new Zero-Day DoS vulnerability in a Rockwell Automation PLC that could paralyze an operational network with a single click. The vulnerability was presented at the 2015 ICS Cyber Security Conference today.

Researchers from the CyberX Industrial Threat Intelligence team, discovered the vulnerability as part of their on-going work, researching a wide variety of industrial control systems. The vulnerability, dubbed FrostyURL, was discovered in the Allen-Bradley Micrologix 1100 PLC, widely used in industrial environments and was validated by the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT).

FrostyURL is exploited by using a simple URL. This means it can be easily used within a short javascript snippet that renders all vulnerable PLCs inactive, and by doing so, probably takes the operational network down. A single click can shut down an operational network, which can lead to financial ruin.

Nir Giller, CTO, explains: “Once you have the destructive URL, anyone can exploit the vulnerability, this does not require a sophisticated hacker. The URL can be non-suspicious, it can even appear as an internal link, in an email message to an employee. It blew our minds how simple it is. This can end up with a shutdown of a harbor full of hazardous materials, or cause significant damage to a plant, as happened in Germany just over a year ago.”

The discovery process required a lot of effort and extraordinary research capabilities. In order to explore the firmware’s behavior, the researchers created a custom firmware that was uploaded to the PLC in order to simulate a debugging environment inside the device, including executing code and dumping memory. Doing so meant bypassing of any security measure that was designed to prevent this, without any prior knowledge of these measures.

David, lead researcher at CyberX, adds: “This was an ‘Open Sesame’ moment, as it enabled us to dump all of the PLC’s memory and thus observe the effects of different exploitation techniques we tried later on. We successfully reverse engineered the PLC firmware, and we are sure we can find and exploit additional vulnerabilities.”

The Industrial Threat Intelligence research team has discovered additional zero-day vulnerabilities in other vendors’ PLCs and CyberX is bringing these discoveries to the vendors’ attention. 

About CyberX

Serving customers worldwide, CyberX enables real-time detection of cyber and operational incidents by providing complete visibility into operational networks. CyberX is a member of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), OPC Foundation and ICS-ISAC and was recognized by Gartner as a Cool Vendor in Security for Technology and Service Providers, 2015.




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