SCADA vuln imperils critical infrastructure, feds warn

Secret accounts open control systems to attack


An electronic device used to control machinery in water plants and other industrial facilities contains serious weaknesses that allow attackers to take it over remotely, the US agency that safeguards the nation's critical infrastructure has warned.

Some models of the Modicon Quantum PLC used in industrial control systems contain multiple hidden accounts that use predetermined passwords to grant remote access, the Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team said in an advisory (PDF) issued on Tuesday. Palatine, Illinois–based Schneider Electric, the maker of the device, has produced fixes for some of the weaknesses and continues to develop additional mitigations.

The PLCs, or programmable logic controllers, reside at the lowest levels of an industrial plant, where computerized sensors meet the valves, turbines, or other machinery that's being controlled. The default passwords are hard-coded into Ethernet cards the systems use to funnel commands into the devices, and temperatures and other data out of them. The Ethernet modules also allow administrators to remotely log into the machinery using protocols such as telnet, FTP, and something called the Windriver Debug port.

According to a blog post published on Monday by independent security researcher Rubén Santamarta, the NOE 100 and NOE 771 modules contain at least 14 hard-coded passwords, some of which are published in support manuals. Even in cases where the passcodes are obscured using cryptographic hashes, they are trivial to recover thanks to documented weaknesses in the underlying VxWorks operating system. As a result, attackers can exploit the weakness to log into devices and gain privileged access to its controls.

Hard-coded passwords are a common weakness built into many industrial control systems, including some S7 series of PLCs from Siemens. Because the systems control the machinery connected to dams, gasoline refineries, and water treatment plants, unauthorized access is considered a national security threat because it could be used to sabotage their operation.

The FBI has said it's investigating claims a Houston, Texas–based water utility was breached last month by someone claiming to have accessed the internet-connected computers that control its generators, blowers, and other sensitive gear.

“Hard-coded backdoor credentials that give you administrator rights to a system are pretty severe,” said K. Reid Wightman, a security assessor with Digital Bond, a consultancy that focuses solely on ICS security. He said it can be hard for attackers to exercise too much control over an ICS by taking over the PLC alone, because there's often no indication what kind of equipment is connected to it.

“You don't have the human machine interface so you don't really know what the PLC is plugged into,” he explained. “I really don't know if the [device] is a release valve, an input valve, or a lightbulb.”

Research Wightman plans to release next month at the SCADA Security Scientific Symposium in Miami could increase the damage that attackers can do after gaining access to many widely used PLCs. Among other things, he said his findings would show how to tamper with the device so that they attack other systems they are attached to.

Indeed, in Monday's blog post, Santamarta said the hard-coded credentials could be exploited to install malicious firmware on the controllers. He also alluded to “non-documented functionalities with security implications” in the Schneider devices. He said he discovered the hidden accounts by reverse engineering the firmware that controls the PLCs.

A rudimentary search on the server search engine known as Shodan revealed what appear to be working links to several of the vulnerable Schneider models. Santamarta said there is no fix for the devices other than to retire the faulty Ethernet cards and replace them with better-designed ones. Tuesday's ICS-CERT advisory said the fixes from Schneider removes the telnet and Windriver services. The advisory made no mention of changes to FTP services. ®

Follow dangoodin001.


Other stories you might like

  • Tencent admits to poisoned QR code attack on QQ chat platform
    Could it be Beijing was right about games being bad for China?

    Chinese web giant Tencent has admitted to a significant account hijack attack on its QQ.com messaging and social media platform.

    In a post to rival social media platform Sina Weibo – a rough analog of Twitter – Tencent apologized for the incident.

    The problem manifested on Sunday night and saw an unnamed number of QQ users complain their credentials no longer allowed them access to their accounts. Tencent has characterized that issue as representing "stolen" accounts.

    Continue reading
  • Carnival Cruises torpedoed by US states, agrees to pay $6m after waves of cyberattacks
    Now those are some phishing boats

    Carnival Cruise Lines will cough up more than $6 million to end two separate lawsuits filed by 46 states in the US after sensitive, personal information on customers and employees was accessed in a string of cyberattacks.

    A couple of years ago, as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold, the Miami-based biz revealed intruders had not only encrypted some of its data but also downloaded a collection of names and addresses; Social Security info, driver's license, and passport numbers; and health and payment information of thousands of people in almost every American state.

    It all started to go wrong more than a year prior, as the cruise line became aware of suspicious activity in May 2019. This apparently wasn't disclosed until 10 months later, in March 2020.

    Continue reading
  • India extends deadline for compliance with infosec logging rules by 90 days
    Helpfully announced extension on deadline day

    India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and the local Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) have extended the deadline for compliance with the Cyber Security Directions introduced on April 28, which were due to take effect yesterday.

    The Directions require verbose logging of users' activities on VPNs and clouds, reporting of infosec incidents within six hours of detection - even for trivial things like unusual port scanning - exclusive use of Indian network time protocol servers, and many other burdensome requirements. The Directions were purported to improve the security of local organisations, and to give CERT-In information it could use to assess threats to India. Yet the Directions allowed incident reports to be sent by fax – good ol' fax – to CERT-In, which offered no evidence it operates or would build infrastructure capable of ingesting or analyzing the millions of incident reports it would be sent by compliant organizations.

    The Directions were roundly criticized by tech lobby groups that pointed out requirements such as compelling clouds to store logs of customers' activities was futile, since clouds don't log what goes on inside resources rented by their customers. VPN providers quit India and moved their servers offshore, citing the impossibility of storing user logs when their entire business model rests on not logging user activities. VPN operators going offshore means India's government is therefore less able to influence such outfits.

    Continue reading
  • LGBTQ+ folks warned of dating app extortion scams
    Uncle Sam tells of crooks exploiting Pride Month

    The FTC is warning members of the LGBTQ+ community about online extortion via dating apps such as Grindr and Feeld.

    According to the American watchdog, a common scam involves a fraudster posing as a potential romantic partner on one of the apps. The cybercriminal sends explicit of a stranger photos while posing as them, and asks for similar ones in return from the mark. If the victim sends photos, the extortionist demands a payment – usually in the form of gift cards – or threatens to share the photos on the chat to the victim's family members, friends, or employer.

    Such sextortion scams have been going on for years in one form or another, even attempting to hit Reg hacks, and has led to suicides.

    Continue reading
  • 5G C-band rollout at US airports slowed over radio altimeter safety fears
    Well, they did say from July, now they really mean from July 2023

    America's aviation watchdog has said the rollout of 5G C-band coverage near US airports won't fully start until next year, delaying some travelers' access to better cellular broadband at crowded terminals.

    Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen said in a statement this month that its discussions with wireless carriers "have identified a path that will continue to enable aviation and 5G C-band wireless to safely co-exist."

    5G C-band operates between 3.7-3.98GHz, near the 4.2-4.4GHz band used by radio altimeters that are jolly useful for landing planes in limited visibility. There is or was a fear that these cellular signals, such as from cell towers close to airports, could bleed into the frequencies used by aircraft and cause radio altimeters to display an incorrect reading. C-band technology, which promises faster mobile broadband, was supposed to roll out nationwide on Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile US's networks, but some deployments have been paused near airports due to these concerns. 

    Continue reading
  • IBM settles age discrimination case that sought top execs' emails
    Just days after being ordered to provide messages, Big Blue opts out of public trial

    Less than a week after IBM was ordered in an age discrimination lawsuit to produce internal emails in which its former CEO and former SVP of human resources discuss reducing the number of older workers, the IT giant chose to settle the case for an undisclosed sum rather than proceed to trial next month.

    The order, issued on June 9, in Schenfeld v. IBM, describes Exhibit 10, which "contains emails that discuss the effort taken by IBM to increase the number of 'millennial' employees."

    Plaintiff Eugene Schenfeld, who worked as an IBM research scientist when current CEO Arvind Krishna ran IBM's research group, sued IBM for age discrimination in November, 2018. His claim is one of many that followed a March 2018 report by ProPublica and Mother Jones about a concerted effort to de-age IBM and a 2020 finding by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that IBM executives had directed managers to get rid of older workers to make room for younger ones.

    Continue reading
  • FTC urged to probe Apple, Google for enabling ‘intense system of surveillance’
    Ad tracking poses a privacy and security risk in post-Roe America, lawmakers warn

    Democrat lawmakers want the FTC to investigate Apple and Google's online ad trackers, which they say amount to unfair and deceptive business practices and pose a privacy and security risk to people using the tech giants' mobile devices.

    US Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and House Representative Sara Jacobs (D-CA) requested on Friday that the watchdog launch a probe into Apple and Google, hours before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for individual states to ban access to abortions. 

    In the days leading up to the court's action, some of these same lawmakers had also introduced data privacy bills, including a proposal that would make it illegal for data brokers to sell sensitive location and health information of individuals' medical treatment.

    Continue reading
  • Behold this drone-dropping rifle with two-mile range
    Confuses rather than destroys unmanned aerials to better bring back intel, says Ukrainian designer

    What's said to be a Ukrainian-made long-range anti-drone rifle is one of the latest weapons to emerge from Russia's ongoing invasion of its neighbor.

    The Antidron KVS G-6 is manufactured by Kvertus Technology, in the western Ukraine region of Ivano-Frankivsk, whose capital of the same name has twice been subjected to Russian bombings during the war. Like other drone-dropping equipment, we're told it uses radio signals to interrupt control, remotely disabling them, and it reportedly has an impressive 3.5 km (2.17 miles) range.

    "We are not damaging the drone. With communication lost, it just loses coordination and doesn't know where to go. The drone lands where it is jammed, or can be carried away by the wind because it's uncontrollable,"  Kvertus' director of technology Yaroslav Filimonov said. Because the downed drones are unharmed, they give Ukrainian soldiers recovering them a wealth of potential intelligence, he added.  

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022