How hackers can cause physical damage to bridges

In this Help Net Security video, Daniel Dos Santos, Head of Security Research at Forescout, talks about recent research, which has revealed how attackers can move laterally between vulnerable networks and devices found at the controller level of critical infrastructure. This would allow them to damage assets such as movable bridges physically.

This lateral movement lets attackers access industrial control systems and cross often-overlooked security perimeters to cause physical damage. From sensors that measure and detect pressure, temperature, flow and levels of liquids, air, and gases, to analyzers that determine chemical compositions and actuators that enable machines to move. Moving through these devices at the lowest levels, attackers can circumvent built-in functional and safety limitations to cause significant damage or disruption to services, or worse, pose a potential threat to life.

To demonstrate the potential implications, Forescout has built an industry-first proof-of-concept (PoC) which shows how attackers can move laterally on the controller level (Purdue level 1) to cause cyber and physical impact, as illustrated through the scenario of damaging a movable bridge during a closing sequence.

As part of the research, two new vulnerabilities are also being disclosed for the first time – CVE-2022-45788 and CVE-2022-45789 – which allows for remote code execution and authentication bypass, respectively, on Schneider Electric Modicon Unity Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs).

Modicon PLCs are used in a wide range of industrial processes and critical infrastructure, including in industries such as water and wastewater, mining, manufacturing, and energy. Whilst these devices should not be accessible online, Forescout has found that close to a thousand PLCs have been exposed, with France (33%), Spain (17%), Italy (15%), and the United States (6%) revealed as the countries with the most exposed devices.

The number of devices visible is just a small indication of the popularity of these PLCs, but these devices also highlight some of the critical facilities that rely on them. For example, several devices were connected to hydro power plants, solar parks and airports.

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