A flurry of software vulnerabilities found in a variety of industrial control systems has prompted vendors to begin developing patches, following a warning by the US government's Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT).
The security problems were found in SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems made by Siemens, Iconics, 7-Technologies and Datac by researcher Luigi Auriemma, whose findings appeared on his website and the vulnerability site Bugtraq. The CERT's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team issued four alerts on Monday regarding Auriemma's findings.
All of the products have remotely exploitable vulnerabilities, the most dangerous kind. If the systems are connected to the Internet, hackers could find ways to exploit them from afar and get inside the systems to steal or manipulate data.
The systems affected are Siemens' Tecnomatix FactoryLink, which is used in the food, pharmaceutical and metals industries, among many others. Siemens said in 2007 that it would pull FactoryLink from the market in October 2012 and help customer migrate to its WinCC product. According to material published by Siemens in 2008, more than 80,000 FactoryLink systems have been installed worldwide.
Siemens is especially familiar with SCADA vulnerabilities: its WinCC product was targeted by the Stuxnet malware, which is widely suspected as being developed by a government. It successfully infiltrated Iran's nuclear programme, where the country used Siemens WinCC systems. Siemens did not have an immediate comment on the latest vulnerabilities.
Other companies hit by the disclosure include Iconics, whose Genesis32 and Genesis64 software is used in industries such as oil and gas and pharmaceuticals, and Datac, which makes RealWin.
Cyril Kerr, Datac's CEO, said that the vulnerabilities were found in its RealWin product, which is demo version of its RealFlex 6 SCADA product. RealFlex runs on an OS called QNX. However, since companies interested in the product probably don't have that OS, Datac created RealWin, which runs on Windows and can be used to show RealFlex's features, Kerr said.
RealWin is used as a standalone application in some instances for machine control, but in environments where it is not connected to the Internet. If a customer wants to connect the system to the Internet, Datac recommends RealFlex, Kerr said. Datac's engineers are looking into the vulnerabilities reported in RealWin but said the problems are "not a real threat."
"Our RealFlex 6 SCADA software is very secure and has gained a reputation as an extremely robust SCADA system used in thousands of sites around the world," Kerr said.
Also affected was the Danish company 7-Technologies, which makes IGSS. That is control software used by some 70 percent of water and waste treatment management plants throughout Scandinavia, said Jens Krogh Løppenthien, the company's managing director. IGSS can also be used for shipping traffic systems.
Løppenthien said on Wednesday that Auriemma's findings had "impressive detail," and that his company expected to issue patches within week. "We take these thing very seriously," he said.
Most of the IGSS systems deployed are not directly connected to the Internet, Løppenthien said. Those that are connected are usually protected by a firewall, which the hacker would have to bypass first. If a particular company does want to allow public Internet access to its systems, people connect through a VPN (Virtual Private Network), he said.
Companies using IGSS usually work with a systems integrator that will patch their systems, although 7-Technologies can roll out patches in a fashion like Microsoft, he said. But since many companies have customised IGSS systems, the system integrator will test the patches to be sure the fixes don't interfere with other processes.
Auriemma's discoveries underscore warnings computer security researchers have been issuing for some time: SCADA systems are often old and haven't gone through proper security audits even though systems control critical infrastructure.
Auriemma said that although he is a vulnerability researcher, he had no experience with SCADA systems. He started downloading free trial versions of the products, some of which are available on the Internet, and probing. He quickly found problems, sometimes within two hours.
He didn't contact the vendors before releasing the vulnerabilities, something that is considered good form by security researchers to avoid putting companies at immediate risk of attack.
"In my opinion there is absolutely no risk because these systems are not made to be reached via the internet," Auriemma wrote. "If an attacker reaches the vulnerable systems, it means the security of the company has been already compromised before."
His lack of disclosure may bug some vendors. 7-Technologies' Løppenthien, however, said: "Maybe we should hire him."