Category Archives: Triconex

Extreme Badness from Malware and Design Flaws Impact Industry

Insiderlogo3First, there’s the Triton Exploit

In 2004, Triconex safety expert Robert Adamski told me, “I’m going to share my nightmare with you.” He proceeded to talk about, not a safety issue, but a cyber security issue. He predicted that it would be possible to penetrate a control system and enter the safety instrumented system, the SIS, which is designed to safely shut down a plant in the event of a failure in the process. He explained exactly how his hacker, “Let’s call him Ali al Qaeda,” would be able to do that, and he dared me to tell him it couldn’t happen.

 

Ever since then, I have been talking about Bob Adamski’s nightmare, and nobody has ever been able to tell me it couldn’t happen.

 

The best they could do was to assert, pretty baldly, that it was highly unlikely, that it would require great resources, and would not happen because it would potentially cause extreme damage. Neither Adamski, who passed away a few years ago, nor I ever believed much in that argument, and we’ve been waiting for Bob’s nightmare to come true.

 

Well, now it has. Not quite as badly as Adamski feared, and no plant was destroyed. But an attacker targeted an SIS system, and caused it to shut down the plant.

The best description of what happened, and what the malware can do is in a blog by Heather MacKenzie of Nozomi Networks. You can read the entire blog here. She makes some important points.

 

“The attack reprogrammed a facility’s Safety Instrumented System (SIS) controllers, causing them to enter a failed state, and resulting in an automatic shutdown of the industrial process,” MacKenzie wrote. 

 

The attack is bold and notable,” she said, “because it is the first known industrial control system (ICS) attack that has targeted and impacted not just an ICS, but SIS equipment. Also, the type of SIS attacked is widely used and is commissioned in a consistent way across many industries.”

 

She then makes an important point. “The SIS system that was attacked was a Schneider Electric Triconex Safety Instrumented System (hence the malware moniker “TRITON”, also known as “TRISIS”.)  However, the malware was not designed specifically for Triconex, it was designed because the target organization was using Triconex(emphasis added).”

 

What MacKenzie, and Nozomi Networks’ partner, Fireye, which discovered the exploit, says is that FireEye is moderately confident that the attacker inadvertently shutdown operations while developing the ability to cause physical damage. You can read their reasons for coming to this conclusion, and many other important details about the attack, in the FireEye blog post on TRITON.

 

MacKenzie notes, “ It is the first known malware targeting SIS, and only the fifth malware known to specifically target ICS (after Stuxnet, Havex / Dragonfly, Blackenergy2, and Industroyer / CrashOverride).”

 

It is likely that if the target enterprise had been using another SIS system, the exploit would have targeted that one instead of the Triconex system.

 

Now that the exploit has demonstrated that SIS systems as a class are penetrable and vulnerable, we can expect to see more attacks.

 

“Cassandras” like Joe Weiss, myself, Eric Byres (of Tofino fame) and others have been pointing out for a decade that there is a thought gap between data security, which most cyber security systems are based on, and process safety. You cannot have a secure system unless it is a safe system. You cannot have a safe system unless it is a secure system. We can no longer ignore this fact or Bob Adamski’s nightmare will become all too real.

 

Intel, AMD, and Other Processors Vulnerable

 

If the Triton Exploit weren’t enough, the entire computing world was rocked in December  and early January by the revelation that processors by Intel, ARM, AMD, and even Qualcomm (one of the largest manufacturers of mobile device processors) are vulnerable to a series of vulnerabilities, like Spectre and Meltdown, which leave them open to attack.

 

How this impacts the automation industry is obvious. Since the major automation vendors abandoned making their own chips, almost forty years ago, chipsets by Intel, ARM, AMD and others have been used in everything from sensors to controllers, to the computers that DCS and SCADA systems run on. The computers that serve as cloud servers are not immune either.

 

A report from CNET describes the issue: “Researchers found two major weaknesses in processors that could let attackers read sensitive information that should never leave the CPU, or central processing unit. In both cases, attackers could see data that the processor temporarily makes available outside of the chip.

Here’s why that happens: To make computer processes run faster, a chip will essentially guess what information the computer needs to perform its next function. That’s called speculative execution. As the chip guesses, that sensitive information is momentarily easier to access.”

 

Spectre and Meltdown (which targets cloud servers) can be used on systems that are not patched to prevent it, to permit unauthorized entry into the system. Now, it is in the industrial space that systems will potentially NOT be patched.

 

This is because in many cases, the system cannot be shut down to patch it, or the system is running on an archaic processor. There are thousands of Windows XP systems running in the industrial environment. There are instances of even Windows 3.11 and DOS systems running processes yet today. These systems cannot be patched.

 

Intel and the others state that the flaw has existed for at least twenty years, so all those archaic systems are vulnerable.

 

CNET reports, “Researchers, chipmakers and computer companies all say there are no known examples of hackers using these weaknesses to attack a computer. However, now that the details of the design flaws and how to exploit them are publicly available, the chances of hackers using them are much higher.”

As the Triton Exploit and others have proven, hackers up to and including nation states, have been trying to penetrate Industrial Control Systems for at least a decade and a half already. This just gives them another avenue to exploit. And as the ICS malware exploits we have already seen show, it is not all that difficult to attack a control system that is not adequately defended.

 

Operating system manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft are scrambling to patch their systems so that the exploits cannot be used. But the fact that it exists in nearly all processors means that it will be hanging over us for a long time.

In the meantime, be wary of phishing and other means of achieving entry into your control systems. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

This first appeared in the December 2017 INSIDER. If you like this kind of reporting and analysis, please consider becoming an INSIDER subscriber. Visit http://www.spitzerandboyes.com/insider for more information.

 

December 2017 INSIDER discusses cyber-badness

Insiderlogo3The December 2017 INSIDER has been released. The cover story, “Extreme Badness from Malware and Design Flaws Impact Industry” discusses the two cyber issues impacting the ICS community that surfaced in late December: the Triton Exploit and Spectre and Meltdown. The INSIDER has been discussing this for years, and your editor and Joe Weiss beat the drum for years at Control magazine. The late Robert Adamski called something like the Triton Exploit “Adamski’s Nightmare.” It has been infecting my dreams since 2004, and I am pleased to pass it along to you. If you aren’t afraid yet, you haven’t been paying attention.

In the Health Watch, NIck Denbow and I look at the state of the Automation Industry through the lens of ABB, and we take a look at Endress+Hauser’s alliances, distribution, and newest product and what it means for Millenials as they become engineers and operators.

Rajabahadur Arcot’s article, “India’s expanding economy and emerging growth opportunities” rounds out the last issue of 2017.

If you’re not a subscriber, visit Become an INSIDER and subscribe. Individual subscriptions are $500 per year…that works out to less than $40 a month for the best news and commentary in the industry. Corporate subscriptions are also available. Contact David Spitzer for details.

 

 

 

Schneider Releases Triconex Malware Advisory

Insiderlogo3From the Schneider Electric announcement:
Malware Discovered Affecting Triconex Safety Controllers V1.1 December 14, 2017
Overview
____________________________________________________________________________
Schneider Electric is aware of a directed incident affecting a single customer’s Triconex Tricon safety shutdown system.
____________________________________________________________________________
We are working closely with our customer, independent cybersecurity organizations and ICS- CERT to investigate and mitigate the risks of this type of attack. While evidence suggests this was an isolated incident and not due to a vulnerability in the Triconex system or its program code, we continue to investigate whether there are additional attack vectors. It is important to note that in this instance, the Triconex system responded appropriately, safely shutting down plant operations. No harm was incurred by the customer or the environment.
Triconex user documentation contains detailed security guidelines and recommendations on how to protect Triconex systems from attack. We strongly encourage all our customers to follow these recommendations regarding product use and security, as well as apply and follow industry-recognized cybersecurity best practices at all times to protect their installations:
• Ensure the cybersecurity features in Triconex solutions are always enabled;
• Never leave the front panel key position in the “Program” mode when not actively
configuring the controller;
• And ensure all TriStation terminals, safety controllers and the safety network are isolated
from the rest of the plant communication channels.
Also, review and assess your site’s cyber preparedness. Schneider Electric is a proponent of the NIST Cyber Security Framework and is ready to assist should this be necessary.
The Schneider Electric Product Security Office continues to work with ICS-CERT and will update this advisory as more information becomes available.
Details
The modules of this malware are designed to disrupt Triconex safety controllers, which are used widely in critical infrastructure. The malware requires the keyswitch to be in the “PROGRAM” mode in order to deliver its payload. Among others, the reported malware has the capability to scan and map the industrial control system environment to provide reconnaissance and issue commands directly to Tricon safety controllers.