PLC Controlers, Stuxnet, and Kinetic Attacks: Blackhat 2011
Since the advent of Stuxnet, the problem of SCADA (PLC) systems and their control vulnerabilities has become the focus of the world. In that this seems to be the new flavor of the day because someone (A nation state actor) decided to use those known vulnerabilities (at least 10 years worth of them) to exploit the Siemens systems at Natanz and Bushehr nuclear facilities in Iran we now have a new form of terrorist attack as Cofer Black pointed out in the keynote to Blackhat.
Dillon Beresford presented a talk on the Siemens 7 system vulnerabilities at Blackhat yesterday and did a great engineering job on the Siemens PLC system 7 attacks. However, in being so close to the subject, at least in the presentation, he seemed ill equipped to understand some of the ramifications of the exploit that was used against Iran and the amount of work that had to go into it to pull it off.
I say this because of the offhand comment that a single actor (hacker in a basement) could in fact have come up with the exploit code and he is technically right. He has singly come up with more exploit code and plugins to Metasploit to prove it, but, the attack on Iran was more complex than just exploit code for a Siemens 7 PLC. This too seemed to elude him in the statement that he did no understand the reasoning for the pivot point of the Windows machines that were infected with the worm that injected the code into the system 7.
The reasons for the attack vector pivot point is simply this;
The actors who created this exploit(s) wanted to be able to infect non connected systems at key hardened facilities that they did not have access to. Facilities that may have had regular network connections that might allow access to the worm and thus infect not only one site but many and not just the PLC systems themselves. This attack was multi purpose and needed to be persistent for a long time in order to carry out its mission goal.
And the goals seem pretty evident now:
Have the centrifuges eat themselves
Have the product from the centrifuges be compromised and thus put Iran’s nuclear program even further back.
The fact is, that the exploit code for the PLC’s was small in comparison to the amount of work and 0day that went into the worm itself. This is a key feature of the attack and something that Beresford seemed to miss. The worm was indeed the delivery system and it was likely carried into the Bushehr facility by a contractor (my thought is Russian as they were working on the Iranian program and had access) on a USB stick. Once inside, the malware had the ability to detect, spread, and inject the exploit code specific to the Siemens PLC systems at those facilities.
This brings me to a second point on all of this. The intelligence needed to know exactly what systems the Iranians had was something only a nation state actor could really have the resources to gather. This was in fact a nation state attack from all the signs of it. That it used exploits for SCADA systems that were known to be vulnerable for some time is the only twist. However, that twist had been used in the past and as long ago as the Reagan era.
An attack on a Russian pipeline was eventually disclosed by the CIA as a worm that attacked the systems of the pipeline (i.e. the PLC’s controlling the pressure of the gas) and caused a 3 kiloton explosion. This worm was likely created by the CIA and used to help dismantle the USSR.. Well at least cause some heavy damage to a pipeline that was in contention at the very least. So, this type of attack is NOT NEW. It was a quietly known vector of attack as far back (publically) as 2004 when it was revealed to the public at large, but much longer known about in intelligence circles.
The short and long, the exploits may be new in some cases, but, the type of attack is not at all.
The real difference today though is that we have the hacker community out there able to get their hands on code easily and even perhaps the PLC systems themselves to create even more exploits. Add to this that many SCADA systems have been connected to the Internet (as they should NEVER BE) ripe for attack and we have a big problem. However, the proof of concept now is out there, the exploit code is available and all it will take is an aggressor tenacious enough to write the malware to have another Stuxnet type attack on less hardened systems. An attack that could bring down the grid, cause the poop factory to explode and leak into our drinking water, or, like in Russia, have our pipelines explode in 3 kiloton explosions.
This Dillon is the key point and I know you get that. So, lets extrapolate further, how about in future conferences we have more of what Dillon did. He went to Siemens and gave them the exploit code and showed them the problems. They, unlike many companies, are taking up the challenge and not trying to hide the problems but instead are actively working on them to re-mediate. The next step is to go to EVERY PLC maker (wink wink Big O and the Administration.. Oh DHS maybe?) and bitch slap them into doing something about the problems? As Dillon pointed out, these systems are pretty open and inter-operable, so the code is likely to be just as bad everywhere.
If we don’t.. We are likley to wake up one day to a big explosion and it may just be an accident.. Or, it could be another targeted attack like Stuxnet.
PS.. One small thing Dillon.. Please, attend Toastmasters. I think it would help you greatly. You speak too softly and did not enunciate.