Black Hat 2010: SCADA systems far more insecure than enterprise IT systems

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SCADA systems, used to manage operations at places such as power plants and gas and oil refineries, often contain known vulnerabilities and unnecessary software, making them ripe for exploitation, according to researchers at critical infrastructure security consultancy Red Tiger Security.

In its analysis of approximately 120 critical infrastructure facilities, researchers at the firm discovered 38,753 vulnerabilities, Jonathan Pollet, founder and principal consultant for Red Tiger Security, said during a session Wednesday at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas.

Moreover, there was a 331 day-gap between the time a vulnerability was disclosed in the public and when it is discovered in an industrial control systems assessment, Pollet said. One system contained a vulnerability that was disclosed three years prior to when it was discovered in the SCADA environment.

Almost every assessment uncovered unnecessary software installed on SCADA systems, such as instant messaging chat clients, online dating service databases and online gaming software servers, he said. In addition, some SCADA systems contained botnet and malware code.

Overall, SCADA systems are far less secure than enterprise IT systems, Pollet said. Unlike enterprise systems, SCADA environments allow no downtime or planned outages and, consequently, are difficult to patch and maintain in a secure way, he said.

Malware writers are targeting critical infrastructure control systems and even worse, the advanced persistent threat (APT) has been creeping into the SCADA deployments, Pollet said.

“Are we winning the cyberwar?" questioned Pollett. “It's hard to when we are asleep. It's time for us to step up the game.”

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