NewsApril 11, 2017 @ 11:00 AM

Critical Vulnerabilities Put ICS Security at Risk

Thousands of industrial control systems (ICS) could be at risk of hacking due to critical vulnerabilities affecting a popular piece of software. SecurityWeek detailed how the flaws affect an application from 3S-Smart Software Solutions. The potential problem for ICS security stems from CODESYS, a hardware-independent middleware layer for programming Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and ICS.

SecurityWeek reported the issue has now been resolved by 3S-Smart Software Solutions. However, the need for a patch, which could take some time to roll out to all affected organizations, highlighted the need for IT managers to be aware of the risk to connected technologies, particularly when it comes to ICS security.

What Are the Vulnerabilities?

The flaws were discovered by security firm CyberX. Phil Neray, vice president of industrial cybersecurity and marketing at CyberX, described how the vulnerabilities affect all devices incorporating CODESYS Web Server v2.3 and earlier versions of the software.

CODESYS is used to program a range of devices, such as programmable logic controllers and human machine interfaces. CyberX detailed how these devices are used in almost all elements of critical industrial infrastructure, including power plants, oil and gas installations, and chemical and pharmaceutical factories.

The first vulnerability, CVE-2017-6027, allows an attacker to upload arbitrary files to the CODESYS Web Server and potentially create remote code execution. The second flaw, CVE-2017-6025, is a stack-based buffer overflow that attackers could use to crash the application or execute arbitrary code.

What Are the Risks?

The fear is that attackers could use the flaws to create safety failure and environmental damage at critical industrial infrastructure. ICS-CERT published an advisory note and rated the potential risk score of the vulnerabilities as critical because attackers can potentially gain remote code execution capabilities.

3S-Smart Software has released a patch, but CyberX suggested that the rollout process could be complicated by a range of factors. The firm, for example, pointed to the widespread use of the application: Estimates suggest more than 1 million CODESYS-based devices are sold every year.

These devices often run on systems that operate continuously in critical environments. CyberX noted that the lengthy process of waiting for manufacturer firmware updates and device reflashes could lead to “forever day vulnerabilities,” where flaws are ignored due to the complex process involved in creating a fix.

Ensuring ICS Security

Increased digitization expands the attack surface available to attackers. IDC predicted the worldwide installed base of IoT endpoints will reach 25.6 billion by 2019 and approximately 30 billion connections in 2020.

This increased connectivity likely means cybercriminal will turn their attention to ICS and critical infrastructure. Already, almost 40 percent of monitored ICS computers faced an attack at some point in the second half of 2016, according to Kaspersky Lab.

Security professionals who face these attacks face a significant technical challenge. However, there are a few best practices for mitigating risk:

  • Ensure ICS are never directly exposed to the public internet.
  • Isolate connected devices from corporate IT networks and keep their firewalls patched and updated.
  • Minimize potential compromise with subnets that isolate vulnerable ICS devices from outside systems.
  • Implement real-time monitoring to quickly identify suspicious or unauthorized activities.

By referring to these best practices, IT managers can help protect their ICS from impending vulnerabilities, attacks and a severely compromised automation infrastructure.

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Mark Samuels

Tech Journalist

Mark Samuels is an experienced business technology journalist with an outstanding track record in research. He specializes in the role of chief information officers (CIOs) and is adept at helping executives understand the business benefits of complex technologies. Key areas of interest include innovation, digital transformation, cloud computing, mobility, information security, ecommerce and big data. Mark has written articles for national newspapers, including The Guardian, The Times and The Sunday Times. He has also produced features and columns for a range of IT trade publications, such as Computer Weekly, ZDNet, Tech Republic, IT Pro, Channel Pro, CBR and The Register.