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Hackers Gain "Full Control" of Critical SCADA Systems 195

mask.of.sanity writes "Researchers have found holes in industrial control systems that they say grant full control of systems running energy, chemical and transportation systems. They also identified more than 150 zero day vulnerabilities of varying degrees of severity affecting the control systems and some 60,000 industrial control system devices exposed to the public internet."
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Hackers Gain "Full Control" of Critical SCADA Systems

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  • by danheskett ( 178529 ) <> on Sunday January 12, 2014 @11:54AM (#45932101)

    I've seen these some of these systems and they are a total nightmare. Of course the worst are running Windows - totally unpatched, unmanaged, and out of control stock Windows desktop builds. The "best" of breed use Windows Embedded (or CE for older devices), but in general they are all still unpatched and unmanaged.

    Another problem is that manufacturers don't really provide for on going maintenance. And of course they go out of business.

  • by clovis ( 4684 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @12:23PM (#45932259)

    Proper isolation? If by proper isolation you mean an air gap, then OK, I agree.

    "Proper firewalling" is a pipe dream. If you have a firewall, then you have external access and a vulnerability right there.
    Whatever port you have open is an access point, and thus a vulnerability.
    Keep in mind that many of these systems have hidden backdoors or default admin accounts for maintenance.
    And the reply "it's OK if it's properly configured" would be true if every system had network admin that was 100% competent. Do you wish to make that claim?

    "virus/malware"? I suppose you mean anti-virus/malware. There is no such thing a 100% effective anti-virus/malware software. They are not even close.
    Keep in mind that the anti-virus software in itself is a vulnerability.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @12:31PM (#45932285) Journal

    Indeed, thinking of the smart grid, you could probably get the grid down by issuing a command to sufficiently many household appliances to switch on at the very same time. Those will be even less protected than the power stations, because "who would want to attack my dishwasher?"

  • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @12:48PM (#45932365)

    The problem with making some of these systems inaccessible means they have almost no real functionality at that point. Using the tritium JACEs as an example, the whole point of them is the network, and to exchange information in higher level protocols.

    In the old days we separated systems and interfaces between systems with relays and analog i/o. While it worked then, now we have 100x points (many diagnostic rather than control) and it just isn't practical. Today's practical solution would be the SCADA as primary, with a lot of hard-wired safety interlocks. The problem is there really is a shortage of people that can troubleshoot those things, so it is likely to be disabled within 5-10 years, or once needs change.

    Proper security is hard, and when 80% of it is in a black box provided by a (adversarial) third party, this is what you get.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2014 @01:15PM (#45932525)

    The best thousand+ ton machinery I've seen, were running haskell code on the latest linux kernel. So cool and up to date.

  • by I_have_a_life ( 1582721 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @02:29PM (#45932937)
    The problem isn't Windows (not sure if you are implying this or not). It's a convergence of factors which make patching systems a veritable nightmare in the process control systems.

    1. The people who run the plant are trying to squeeze the maximum amount of yield from their plant. Shutting down a SCADA system so that it can be patched and tested may literally cost them millions of dollars per hour. Furthermore, the cost of upgrading is not looked upon kindly unless it's going to help you create more of product X at a lower price. You may argue that the greater good is more important than money but these guys aren't listening to that.

    2. These industries are rife with rules and regulations that further inflate the cost of patching systems. In the pharmaceutical industry the cost of applying a single patch may run well into the millions of dollars because every change has to be meticulously audited.

    3. IT is often outsourced to third parties in order to control costs. The downside of ceding control of your own infrastructure is that even something mundane like changing a firewall rule has a process which costs money and resources.

    4. There is an old-school engineering mentality that is pervasive based on the old adage "if it ain't broke don't fix it". No person involved in the industry wants to find problems. They want the plant to produce and they expect the hardware and software they buy to produce - untouched - for 20-30 years.

    I have seen crazy things at plant floors. Control systems still running on Windows NT, operators sharing credentials, copying files from one system to another using thumb drives because the network does not allow files-haring.
  • by ThreeKelvin ( 2024342 ) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @03:27PM (#45933273)

    I ran a part of the process plant by hand during the commisioning phase for the last automation project I was on. Working together with an operator I could barely keep up with one fifth of full capacity for four hours and we were both completely drained afterwards.

    The complexity of modern process plants is mind-bogling to people who haven't seen them - and even when they've seen them they don't understand that all the valves, pumps, heat exchangers, etc., around them are doing a finely choregraphied balet behind the scenes. The manpower needed for running a process plant by hand is in the neighborhood of 10-20 times that of running an automated plant, and even then the throughput will be less and the quality of the resulting product lower.

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"