UK Ministry of Justice secures HVAC systems 'protected' by passwordless Wi-Fi after Register tipoff

There's a default admin password online too

The Ministry of Justice has secured a set of Wi-Fi access points that potentially gave admin access to industrial control equipment after a tipoff by The Register.

Four unsecured wireless networks named "Boiler Pump 1" to "Boiler Pump 4" were freely accessible in the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) until The Register told officials what was happening.

The networks were all viewable from the ground floor of the Queen's Building, a 1960s extension to the original neo-Gothic court building. The RCJ houses Britain's most senior civil courts, including the Court of Appeal.

A source told us that connecting to the passwordless access points exposed a login page for what appeared to be an industrial control system developed by Armstrong Fluid Technology. Armstrong's website hosts PDF copies of equipment manuals complete with default administrator passwords, referred to by Armstrong as "Level 2" access.

"Level 1 allows the user to change the operating parameters and restore them to the factory defaults, but not save as factory defaults. Level 2 allows qualified personnel to change the operating and system parameters and allows restoring or saving the factory defaults," explained one manual, shortly before revealing the concerningly simple Level 2 password which we won't reveal here.

A malicious person who connected to the unsecured access point and viewed the pumps' login portal branding could easily have put two and two together and gained admin access to the pumps. Shutting them down could have caused water pipes to freeze overnight as winter sets in, potentially forcing the closure* of the building and delays to court cases.

Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service spokesman Jake Conneely told The Register: "Staff took immediate action to ensure these facilities cannot be accessed and maintain security across the courts."

We are told the Wi-Fi access points have been disabled until further notice.

A technically adept attacker bent on mischief could use access to the pumps as a starting point for further network exploitation. Such pivots from innocuous equipment are routine for ransomware attackers and hostile nation states alike, as compromises focused on digital supply chains have showed in recent years. One such spate of attacks targeted Accellion internet-connected file transfer appliances.

A knowledgeable source from a pentesting company, whom The Register is not naming because they were not speaking on behalf of their employer, confirmed to us that HVAC system components tend to be provisioned with a Wi-Fi access point for local access by maintenance contractors. They suggested that the boiler pump controls may also be cabled into a wider building heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) setup remotely accessible by permanent staff.

The existence of the vulnerability is surprising: as the country's biggest and highest-profile civil court, the RCJ complex is a public space, meaning those in charge of the RCJ HVAC systems should have foreseen others being able to see (and connect to) the unsecured wireless access points. They may also have been visible from a public road that runs behind the Queen's Building.

Airport-style security at the main RCJ entrance searches everyone entering. The ancient right of every Briton to enter a courtroom and sit in the public gallery watching the proceedings means locking down physical access to the Queen's Building is impossible.

As far as we know, the pump access was not exploited by anyone malicious – though if you've had a particularly cold day in court recently, perhaps it's worth asking why. ®


*Or perhaps not, as the Evening Standard's court correspondent related today:

Other stories you might like

  • India reveals home-grown server that won't worry the leading edge

    And a National Blockchain Strategy that calls for gov to host BaaS

    India's government has revealed a home-grown server design that is unlikely to threaten the pacesetters of high tech, but (it hopes) will attract domestic buyers and manufacturers and help to kickstart the nation's hardware industry.

    The "Rudra" design is a two-socket server that can run Intel's Cascade Lake Xeons. The machines are offered in 1U or 2U form factors, each at half-width. A pair of GPUs can be equipped, as can DDR4 RAM.

    Cascade Lake emerged in 2019 and has since been superseded by the Ice Lake architecture launched in April 2021. Indian authorities know Rudra is off the pace, and said a new design capable of supporting four GPUs is already in the works with a reveal planned for June 2022.

    Continue reading
  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021