U.S. government warns of SCADA flaws

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Following disclosures earlier this week about vulnerabilities in supervisory control and data acquisition software (SCADA) systems, US-CERT issued alerts for four different software products used to control hardware appliances at such industrial facilities as nuclear plants and gas refineries.

On Monday, Luigi Auriemma, a 30-year-old Italian independent researcher, posted the advisories and proof-of-concepts to the Bugtraq email mailing list. 

Auriemma explained that at least 34 vulnerabilities – found in programs sold by Siemens, Iconics, 7-Technologies, Datac and Control Microsystems – allow people to monitor and control the various hardware sensors and mechanisms located in industrial environments and could enable attackers to remotely execute code and targeted attacks via buffer and heap overflows.

"The majority of the vulnerabilities lead to remote code execution with the privileges of the SCADA software, or more often, "administrator," and almost all the bugs fall in the trivial-to-exploit category," Auriemma told SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday.

The remaining flaws allow miscreants to read remote files and, in three cases, the effect is "only" a crash, he said.

Similar bugs were responsible for disrupting operations at two nuclear facilities in Iran last summer.

Although the origin of the Stuxnet attacks have never been determined – it is widely believed to have originated in the United States or Israel – the attack on Siemens software raised the profile of the vulnerability of SCADA systems, garnering headlines across the globe.

Experts have said that much of the equipment in these systems is several years old, and security patches are often overlooked since replacing parts would disrupt operations.

The Siemens device is said to have been installed in more than 80,000 locations since 2008, Auriemma said, though Iconics Genesis appears to be the most used.

In response to Auriemma's list, the Industrial Control System Computer Emergency Response Team, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recommended that "users minimize network exposure for all control system devices."

Control system devices should not directly face the internet, according to the alerts. They should be placed behind firewalls and isolated from the business network. If remote access is required, IT should employ secure methods, such as virtual private networks (VPNs)."

However, in the case of Stuxnet, it is widely believed that the bug was introduced not via the internet but through thumb drives inserted into the system by maintenance workers making their rounds from facility to facility.

For more information on SCADA vulnerabilities, see "Life after Stuxnet," in the April issue of SC Magazine, which will be available online April 1.

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