Hackers can remotely take over Nuclear Power Plants by exploiting vulnerability in IES

Hackers can exploit the vulnerabilities of Industrial Ethernet Switches and take control over Nuclear Power Plants or the Hydroelectric Dams.

Are you among those who believe that hackers can only take down a website with the DDOS attack?  If Yes, then its time you started thinking otherwise, because a new research has revealed some shocking vulnerabilities in the Industrial Ethernet Switches (IES) which could be exploited by the hackers to gain an easy access to enormous Nuclear Power Plants or the Hydroelectric Dams

As per the The Daily Dot, the security researchers would be uncovering the entire details of the vulnerabilities present in the IES at the BlackHat cyber security conference which will be held next week in Las Vegas.

What is an Industrial Ethernet Switch and why is it so very important?

IES are basically used to connect the various devices in huge power plants, hydroelectric dams, refineries, ports, factories and other industrial organizations and they are responsible for the prompt maintenance of the internal network. However, security researchers have discovered certain security flaws which can help cyber attackers to “not only gain access to the network but also take full control and cause potential damage.”

It is essential to understand that IES are not used in residential places and it finds its applications in large scale operations only. The security researchers have proved that these hubs have certain potential pitfalls which could result in catastrophic damage in case of cyberattack.

The security flaws include the recurrent use of ‘default passwords’, ‘hard coded encryption keys’ and ‘lack of proper authentication for firmware updates’. Security researchers say that these three together form the “fundamental failures of security” making it quite simple for the hackers to get an easy access to the concerned system.

While speaking to The Daily Dot, Robert Lee, a security researcher and an active-duty U.S. Air Force Cyber Warfare Operations Officer, said: “Anything that the facility is capable of in its natural operating system, you’re [an attacker] capable of doing — and doing damage with if you control the network. With a power station, you can have major repercussions. With a hydroelectric dam, if you don’t monitor processes in a normal situation, it’ll spin out of control. Everything you have can be manipulated.”

Security researchers say that the major issue with IES is that these hubs are commonly used to connect the inner workings of a facility which means all the organizations which makes use of IES are susceptible to attack.

The researchers also feel that it is not the vulnerability that poses the danger; however it is the ignorance and lack of attention towards security which arises from the outdated technology and security practices which are of concern.

As per security researchers, it could be a case where the careless operators never bother to change the default password. They also feel that that the outdated devices might not have any chance of validating the authenticity of the updates of the firmware.

Lee along with the risk researcher Eireann Leverett is working to address these so called pitfalls of the IES and also trying to find ways to mitigate the public fears that is arising due to this issue.

Leverett, told The Daily Dot, “All these vulnerabilities are pervasive and endemic. Most vendors haven’t done the basics.” Mainly so because the equipment used in the facilities are all outdated because they were installed during the time when cyber-security had not advanced, on the contrary the threats posed today were not present in the list of cyber security.

In the present scenario cyber attacks has really advanced and become more common and robust, hence it is high time that the enormous organizations reconstruct their security with the modern advanced methods.

Lee adds, “What we don’t have is awareness. There is a massive lack of security awareness in the industrial control systems community and that’s where attention needs to be focused first.”

Well, once hackers snoop in, it would be next to impossible to save the organization on the whole so it is better to take proper precautions before it is ‘too late’.

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