Despite Stuxnet, Duqu, control system flaws still overlooked
Most efforts to fix infrastructure threats are wrongly focused, security pros say
Computerworld - Efforts to strengthen critical infrastructure targets continue to focus on front-end systems rather than on underlying industrial control systems where the real problems exist, security experts warned this week.
The Stuxnet worm that last year showed how flaws in control systems can be exploited to cause damage to physical assets, but it hasn't yet led to significant security upgrades, they contended.
"Everyone keeps focusing on PCs while PLCs (programmable logic controllers) are still in the same state they were 10 years ago," said Dale Peterson, CEO of Digital Bond, a consulting firm specializing in control system security.
The issue has been longstanding within the industrial control system (ICS) community, and surfaced again this week with the release of a Symantec report that the new Duqu Trojan has links to Stuxnet.
According to Symantec, the Duqu worm appears have been built to steal critical information from vendors of industrial control systems.
Unlike Stuxnet, Duqu does not directly target industrial control systems though information it gathers could be used to create the next Stuxnet, Symantec warned.
The report reignited fears about cyberattacks targeted at the control systems behind equipment at critical infrastructure such as power plants, water treatment facilities and chemical plants.
The problem, though, is that the concerns so far have focused on the front-end, mostly Windows-based Human Machine Interface (HMI) systems that are used to interact with control systems, Peterson said.
Many flaws that have been described as control systems flaws have really been at the front-end engineering workstation layer.
For example last month, Italian researcher Luigi Auriemma disclosed several zero-day vulnerabilities in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) products from multiple vendors including Rockwell Automation, Cogent Datahub, Measuresoft and Progea.
Earlier this year, Auriemma had disclosed similar flaws in products from Siemens, Iconics, 7-Technologies and Datac. Most of the flaws were at the HMI layer.
"There are vulnerabilities in all components but HMI [flaws] are the easiest for researchers to get their hands on," Peterson said.
While addressing such flaws is vital, it is equally important to address flaws in the control systems themselves, said Joseph Weiss, managing partner at Applied Control Systems LLC and author of the book Protecting Industrial Control Systems from Electronic Threat. "These are the flaws that can cause things to go boom at night."
"If you haven't protected HMI's, shame on you," Weiss said. But the bigger threats really are the control system flaws that allow attackers to send commands that cause physical equipment to shut down, overheat or blow-up, he added.
Stuxnet showed how programmable logic controllers could be overwritten to send commands that caused equipment to fail, he said. Despite that warning, little has changed. "Prior to Stuxnet there were zero programs for securing PLCs. To this day there are no programs for securing PLCs," Weiss said.
- Enable secure remote access to 3D data without sacrificing visual perfomance Design and manufacturing companies must adapt quickly to the demands of an increasingly global and competitive economy. To speed time to market for...
- Virtually Delivered High Performance 3D Graphics "A picture is worth a thousand words." That old phrase is as true today as it ever was. Pictures (i.e., those with heavy...
- Best Practices for Securing Hadoop Historically, Apache Hadoop has provided limited security capabilities. To protect sensitive data being stored and analyzed in Hadoop, security architects should use a...
- Top Tips for Securing Big Data Environments: Why Big Data Doesn't Have to Mean Big Security Challenges Organizations must come to terms with the security challenges they introduce. As big data environments ingest more data, organizations will face significant risks...
- What should I look for in a Next Generation Firewall? SANS Provides Guidance With so many vendors claiming to have a Next Generation Firewall (NGFW), it can be difficult to tell what makes each one different....
- Responding to New SSL Cybersecurity Threat The featured Gartner research examines current strategies to address new SSL cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. All Security White Papers | Webcasts
Our new bimonthly Internet of Things newsletter helps you keep pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, trends and developments related to the IoT. Subscribe now and stay up to date!