Control system hack at manufacturer raises red flag
US-CERT find leads to concerns across a broad array of industries, including military and hospitals
By John P. Mello, Jr.
April 09, 2013 — CSO — An unreported attack on the energy management system of a New Jersey manufacturer has been revealed by the U.S. Cyber Emergency Response Team (US-CERT).
Intruders successfully exploited a credential storage vulnerability in the manufacturer's Tridium energy management software made by Honeywell and identified all the company's Internet facing devices, the agency reported in the latest edition of its quarterly ICS-CERT Monitor.
The New Jersey incident occurred around the same time that an intruder exploited the Tridium software at a state government facility and change the system's temperature settings.
Even simple temperature controls can be a weapon in a hacker's hands, said Terry McCorkle, technical director for Cylance.
Data centers have air conditioning running 24/7. If the air conditioning system goes down, the data center will quickly follow suit. "The average time from the air conditioning system going down tothe data center going down is five minutes," he told CSO.
McCorkle and Cylance colleague Billy Rios discovered the credential storage vulnerability before the incidents last year, but Tridium didn't issue a security patch and recommended steps to mitigate the situation until August 2012.
"Tridium takes cybersecurity issues very seriously," a company representative said in an email. "The issues outlined in the ICS-CERT story were resolved last year in cooperation with ICS-CERT and the researchers involved. We continue to evaluate and improve the security of our products."
However, McCorkle noted that the vulnerabilities fixed by Tridium were just the tip of the iceberg. "There are a lot of vulnerabilities in the product," he said.
"I know they're working on them," he said of Tridium, "but not everything has been publicly released yet."
The vulnerabilities in the software raise concerns across a broad array of industries. For example, it's used widely by the military and hospitals to control electronic door locks, lighting systems, elevators, electricity and boiler systems, video surveillance cameras, alarms and other critical building facilities.
"It's a brilliant piece of software," McCorkle observed. "It solves a huge need for the industry. It's just that the software security practices aren't very good."
"Now they are looking at security," he said. "It's definitely on their radar. But there are some inherent flaws in how they designed it originally that's going to be very difficult for them to address."
As industries move more and more control of their real world systems to the Internet, problems like those found with the Tridium software will multiply, said Torsten George, a marketing vice president with Agiliance.
"In today's world we're thriving to connect everything with each other and use the Internet as a remote access tool to manage everything," he told CSO.
"On the one hand, it offers great benefits to the end users," he continued. "But on the other hand, it really puts our infrastructure at major risk. We're seeing that across the board."
That's why he predicts that over the next two years companies will take a harder look at a system before they turn the key on it. "Buyers will begin to insist on an independent test of a system prior to procuring the system," he said.
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