Engineers demonstrate PLC hack on mock oil rig

The widely known Stuxnet incident made sure that the mere mention of SCADA vulnerabilities is enough for security experts to pause.

After all, sabotaging industrial control systems (of which SCADA is just one type) can lead to unprecedented and serious consequences: loss of lives and critical infrastructure, catastrophic pollution, and so on.

It’s no wonder, then, that each new exploitable SCADA vulnerability is given due attention, especially when they are discovered by engineers from a prominent technology and software provider for the energy sector like Cimation, whose clients include giants like Shell and Chevron.

At the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, Eric Forner and Brian Meixell, two of the companies engineers, have held a practical demonstration on a simulation rig of the exploits they have come up with to interfere with the normal functioning of valves regulating the pressure and flow within a systems like oil wells and pipelines.

They took remote control of the Programmable logic controller (PLC), were able to make the pumps go on and off, and even send data reporting nothing was out of the ordinary or reporting the opposite of what was happening to the Human Machine Interface (HMI), which would then send it to the human operator who oversees and controls the functioning of the system.

The attack they demonstrated is possible only if the PLC that is targeted is connected to the Internet and have an old Ethernet module plugged into them. These module with their ancient Linux installations are crucial for compromising the PLC and, unfortunately, these two conditions are met by tens of thousands PLCs in use all around the world.

According to The Register, the two engineers also said that it’s possible – even though less unlikely – for attackers to compromise PLCs that are not kept on the company network.


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