Posts Tagged: Joe Weiss


10
Feb 21

What’s most interesting about the Florida water system hack? That we heard about it at all.

Stories about computer security tend to go viral when they bridge the vast divide between geeks and luddites, and this week’s news about a hacker who tried to poison a Florida town’s water supply was understandably front-page material. But for security nerds who’ve been warning about this sort of thing for ages, the most surprising aspect of the incident seems to be that we learned about it at all.

Spend a few minutes searching Twitter, Reddit or any number of other social media sites and you’ll find countless examples of researchers posting proof of being able to access so-called “human-machine interfaces” — basically web pages designed to interact remotely with various complex systems, such as those that monitor and/or control things like power, water, sewage and manufacturing plants.

And yet, there have been precious few known incidents of malicious hackers abusing this access to disrupt these complex systems. That is, until this past Monday, when Florida county sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a remarkably clear-headed and fact-filled news conference about an attempt to poison the water supply of Oldsmar, a town of around 15,000 not far from Tampa.

Gualtieri told the media that someone (they don’t know who yet) remotely accessed a computer for the city’s water treatment system (using Teamviewer) and briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide (a.k.a. lye used to control acidity in the water) to 100 times the normal level.

“The city’s water supply was not affected,” The Tampa Bay Times reported. “A supervisor working remotely saw the concentration being changed on his computer screen and immediately reverted it, Gualtieri said. City officials on Monday emphasized that several other safeguards are in place to prevent contaminated water from entering the water supply and said they’ve disabled the remote-access system used in the attack.”

In short, a likely inexperienced intruder somehow learned the credentials needed to remotely access Oldsmar’s water system, did little to hide his activity, and then tried to change settings by such a wide margin that the alterations would be hard to overlook.

“The system wasn’t capable of doing what the attacker wanted,” said Joe Weiss, managing partner at Applied Control Solutions, a consultancy for the control systems industry. “The system isn’t capable of going up by a factor of 100 because there are certain physics problems involved there. Also, the changes he tried to make wouldn’t happen instantaneously. The operators would have had plenty of time to do something about it.”

Weiss was just one of a half-dozen experts steeped in the cybersecurity aspects of industrial control systems that KrebsOnSecurity spoke with this week. While all of those interviewed echoed Weiss’s conclusion, most also said they were concerned about the prospects of a more advanced adversary.

Here are some of the sobering takeaways from those interviews:

  • There are approximately 54,000 distinct drinking water systems in the United States.
  • The vast majority of those systems serve fewer than 50,000 residents, with many serving just a few hundred or thousand.
  • Virtually all of them rely on some type of remote access to monitor and/or administer these facilities.
  • Many of these facilities are unattended, underfunded, and do not have someone watching the IT operations 24/7.
  • Many facilities have not separated operational technology (the bits that control the switches and levers) from safety systems that might detect and alert on intrusions or potentially dangerous changes.

So, given how easy it is to search the web for and find ways to remotely interact with these HMI systems, why aren’t there more incidents like the one in Oldsmar making the news? One reason may be that these facilities don’t have to disclose such events when they do happen. Continue reading →


22
Nov 11

DHS Blasts Reports of Illinois Water Station Hack

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security today took aim at widespread media reports about a hacking incident that led to an equipment failure at a water system in Illinois, noting there was scant evidence to support any of the key details in those stories — including involvement by Russian hackers or that the outage at the facility was the result of a cyber incident.

Last week, portions of a report titled “Public Water District Cyber Intrusion” assembled by an Illinois terrorism early warning center were published online. Media outlets quickly picked up on the described incident, calling it the “first successful target of a cyber attack on a computer of a public utility.” But in an email dispatch sent to state, local and industry officials late today, DHS’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) said that after detailed analysis, DHS and the FBI “have found no evidence of a cyber intrusion into the SCADA system of the Curran-Gardner Public Water District in Springfield, Illinois.” The ICS-CERT continued:

“There is no evidence to support claims made in the initial Fusion Center report – which was based on raw, unconfirmed data and subsequently leaked to the media – that any credentials were stolen, or that the vendor was involved in any malicious activity that led to a pump failure at the water plant,” the ICS-CERT alert states. “In addition, DHS and FBI have concluded that there was no malicious or unauthorized traffic from Russia or any foreign entities, as previously reported.  Analysis of the incident is ongoing and additional relevant information will be released as it becomes available.”

The statement is the most strongly worded yet from DHS refuting the alleged cyber incident in Illinois. The story broke on Nov. 17, when Joe Weiss, managing partner of Applied Control Solutions, a security consultant for the control systems industry, published a blog post about a disclosure he reported reading from a state terrorism intelligence center about a cyber intrusion into a local water plant that resulted in the burnout of a water pump. The break-in reportedly allowed intruders to manipulate the supervisory control and data acquisition system, or “SCADA” networks that let plant operators manage portions of the facility remotely over the Internet. Within hours of that post, media outlets covering the story had zeroed in on the Curran-Gardner Water District as the source of the report.

Weiss has repeatedly declined to share or publish the report, but he cited large portions of it in my story from last week. The language and details reported in it stand in stark contrast to the DHS’s version of events. According to Weiss, the report, marked sensitive but unclassified, stated:

“Sometime during the day of Nov. 8, 2011, a water district employee noticed problems with a SCADA system. An information technology service and repair company checked the computer logs of the SCADA system and determined the system had been remotely hacked into from an Internet provider address located in Russia. The SCADA system that was used by the water district was produced by a software company based in the US. It is believed the hackers had acquired unauthorized access to the software company’s database and retrieved the usernames and passwords of various SCADA systems, including the water district systems.”

“Over a period of 2-3 months, minor glitches have been observed in remote access to the water district’s SCADA system. Recently, the SCADA system would power on and off, resulting in the burnout of a water pump.”

“This network intrusion is the same method of attack recently used against the MIT Server,” the water district alert stated. “The water district’s attack and the MIT attack both had references to PHPMyAdmin in the log files of the computer systems. It is unknown at this time the number of SCADA usernames and passwords acquired from the software company’s database, and if any additional systems have been attacked as a result of this theft.”

Weiss blogged about the ICS-CERT statement, and said he can’t figure out how the two accounts could be so different. He notes that the day after his blog post, Don Craven, chairman of the Curran-Gardner Water District, was quoted on a local ABC News affiliate television interview saying that there was “some indication that there was a breach of some sort into a software program, a SCADA system, that allows remote access to the wells and the pumps and those sorts of things” (see video below).

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14
Sep 10

‘Stuxnet’ Worm Far More Sophisticated Than Previously Thought

The “Stuxnet” computer worm made international headlines in July, when security experts discovered that it was designed to exploit a previously unknown security hole in Microsoft Windows computers to steal industrial secrets and potentially disrupt operations of critical information networks. But new information about the worm shows that it leverages at least three other previously unknown security holes in Windows PCs, including a vulnerability that Redmond fixed in a software patch released today.

Image courtesy Kaspersky Lab

As first reported on July 15 by KrebsOnSecurity.com, Stuxnet uses a vulnerability in the way Windows handles shortcut files to spread to new systems. Experts say the worm was designed from the bottom up to attack so-called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, or those used to manage complex industrial networks, such as systems at power plants and chemical manufacturing facilities.

The worm was originally thought to spread mainly through the use of removable drives, such as USB sticks. But roughly two weeks after news of Stuxnet first surfaced, researchers at Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab discovered that the Stuxnet worm also could spread using an unknown security flaw in the way Windows shares printer resources. Microsoft fixed this vulnerability today, with the release of MS10-061, which is rated critical for Windows XP systems and assigned a lesser “important” threat rating for Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers.

In a blog post today, Microsoft group manager Jerry Bryant said Stuxnet targeted two other previously unknown security vulnerabilities in Windows, including another one reported by Kaspersky. Microsoft has yet to address either of these two vulnerabilities – known as “privilege escalation” flaws because they let attackers elevate their user rights on computers where regular user accounts are blocked from making important system modifications.

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