SCADA vulnerabilities prompt US government warning

A researcher has shown just how easy it is to find problems in current SCADA software

A flurry of software vulnerabilities found in a variety of industrial control systems has prompted vendors to begin developing patches, following a warning by the U.S. government's Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT).

The security problems were found in SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems made by Siemens, Iconics, 7-Technologies and Datac by researcher Luigi Auriemma, whose findings appeared on his website and the vulnerability site Bugtraq.

The U.S. CERT's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team issued four alerts on Monday regarding Auriemma's findings.

All of the products have remotely exploitable vulnerabilities, the most dangerous kind. If the systems are connected to the Internet, hackers could find ways to exploit them from afar and get inside the systems to steal or manipulate data.

The systems affected are Siemens' Tecnomatix FactoryLink, which is used in the food, pharmaceutical and metals industries, among many others. Siemens said in 2007 that it would pull FactoryLink from the market in October 2012 and help customer migrate to its WinCC product. According to material published by Siemens in 2008, more than 80,000 FactoryLink systems have been installed worldwide.

Siemens is especially familiar with SCADA vulnerabilities: it's WinCC product was targeted by the Stuxnet malware, which is widely suspected as being developed by a government. It successfully infiltrated Iran's nuclear program, where the country used Siemens WinCC systems. Siemens did not have an immediate comment on the latest vulnerabilities.

Other companies hit by the disclosure include Iconics, whose Genesis32 and Genesis64 software is used in industries such as oil and gas and pharmaceuticals, and Datac, which makes RealWin.

Cyril Kerr, Datac's CEO, said in an e-mail that the vulnerabilities were found in its RealWin product, which is demo version of its RealFlex 6 SCADA product. RealFlex runs on an OS called QNX. However, since companies interested in the product probably don't have that OS, Datac created RealWin, which runs on Windows and can be used to show RealFlex's features, Kerr said.

RealWin is used as a stand-alone application in some instances for machine control, but in environments where it is not connected to the Internet. If a customer wants to connect the system to the Internet, Datac recommends RealFlex, Kerr said. Datac's engineers are looking into the vulnerabilities reported in RealWin but said the problems are "not a real threat."

"Our RealFlex 6 SCADA software is very secure and has gained a reputation as an extremely robust SCADA system used in thousands of sites around the world," Kerr said.

Also affected was the Danish company 7-Technologies, which makes IGSS. That is control software used by some 70 percent of water and waste treatment management plants throughout Scandinavia, said Jens Krogh Løppenthien, the company's managing director. IGSS can also be used for shipping traffic systems.

Løppenthien said on Wednesday that Auriemma's findings had "impressive detail," and that his company expected to issue patches within week.

"We take these thing very seriously," he said.

Most of the IGSS systems deployed are not directly connected to the Internet, Løppenthien said. Those that are connected are usually protected by a firewall, which the hacker would have to bypass first. If a particular company does want to allow public Internet access to its systems, people connect through a VPN (Virtual Private Network), he said.

Companies using IGSS usually work with a systems integrator that will patch their systems, although 7-Technologies can roll out patches in a fashion like Microsoft, he said. But since many companies have customized IGSS systems, the system integrator will test the patches to be sure the fixes don't interfere with other processes.

Auriemma's discoveries underscore warnings computer security researchers have been issuing for some time: SCADA systems are often old and haven't gone through proper security audits even though systems control critical infrastructure.

Auriemma said via e-mail that although he is a vulnerability researcher, he had no experience with SCADA systems. He started downloading free trial versions of the products, some of which are available on the Internet, and probing. He quickly found problems, sometimes within two hours.

He didn't contact the vendors before releasing the vulnerabilities, something that is considered good form by security researchers to avoid putting companies at immediate risk of attack.

"In my opinion there is absolutely no risk because these systems are not made to be reached via the internet," Auriemma wrote. "If an attacker reaches the vulnerable systems, it means the security of the company has been already compromised before."

His lack of disclosure may bug some vendors. 7-Technologies' Løppenthien, however, said: "Maybe we should hire him."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags siemens7-TechnologiesIconicsintrusionDatacsecurityExploits / vulnerabilities

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?