Print 31 comment(s) - last by macthemechanic.. on Aug 7 at 1:40 AM

Data is no longer the only target of cybercriminals

As the most popular operating system in use around the globe, Microsoft Windows is also the most targeted OS for cyber criminals looking to steal data and exploit systems. In the past when hackers attacked a system, they were often looking to steal or change data to suit their needs.

However, cyber attacks and malicious code are now being designed that look to actually take over systems that perform functions in major companies including critical systems in the financial and power industries. Many of these attacks are executed taking advantage of security holes in the Windows operating system.

The U.S. government has created a team of security experts to help industrial firms prepare for a new onslaught of hackers that are bent on taking over the physical systems of power plants and other industry hardware. The reason that the U.S. government is creating a team to help private companies is because as much as 85% of the critical infrastructure for power and other utilities are owned by private firms.

The Canadian Press reports that many attacks have occurred overseas where hackers were trying to take over physical systems rather than steal data. Hackers are targeting power plants increasingly and recent attacks have officials in America concerned.

"People are recognizing that the ability to impact industrial control systems has increased," said Sean McGurk, director of control systems security for DHS. "This type of malicious code and others we've seen recently are actually attacking the physical components, the devices that open doors, close doors, build cars and open gates. They're not just going after the ones and zeros (of a computer code); they're going after the devices that actually produce or conduct physical processes."

One of the latest computer worms that could take over physical systems is the Stuxnet worm. The worm is able to potentially infect computer systems because networks and operating systems in many power plants are very old and haven't been patched with new security fixes. The networks are also often not firewalled from access by high traffic networks and at times are not separated from the internet.

The DHS has been deploying its teams of security experts around the country to assess weaknesses in systems. These teams are also called in to help companies identify and fix networks and computers after cyber attacks. So far the security teams have been dispatched to provide assistance 13 times, in nine of the instances the attacks were deliberate, and four were an unintended result of an operator's action.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

So much for security
By spread on 8/4/2010 10:22:42 AM , Rating: 5
Why are these systems even connected to the internet?

I'm sure workers and management can watch their LOLcat videos on computers OTHER than critical systems at a power plant.

RE: So much for security
By Wiggy Mcshades on 8/4/2010 10:33:35 AM , Rating: 1
they are connected to a network that is connected to the internet. they have to be connect to the network because most of the computers that control any kind of industrial system has no direct user interface and are usually interfaced through another computer. They then must be connected to the internet so they can send out information about the status of certain systems. It'd be quite terrible if a system was failing and it had no way of telling anyone unless you were sitting at the console that controls it. With power plants you have even more need, situations where step down stations are miles away and need to communicate with the systems at the power plant require some sort of network connection.

RE: So much for security
By amanojaku on 8/4/2010 10:43:28 AM , Rating: 5
Before the Internet these machines and power plants worked just fine. Monitoring and control is necessary, but you don't need the Internet for that. There is no reason for a generator to have Internet access, nor the managing stations. A private, physically separate network is the solution. The same company providing Internet access to these locations can also provide the private network between sites. Encryption helps, too.

RE: So much for security
By Iaiken on 8/4/2010 10:53:36 AM , Rating: 2
The problem with that is that it costs money.

Do you really think that if they are already unwilling to shell out to keep the transmission systems up to date that they would really be willing to spend tens of millions to implement a private physical network?

Somebody has to pay for it and in places that have a system operator, the SO points the finger that the utilities and the utilities point the finger at the line owners and the line owners point at the SO ad infinitum. Taxpayer sentiment is that they shouldn't be paying for it so who pays?

RE: So much for security
By amanojaku on 8/4/2010 11:14:53 AM , Rating: 2
For you and Wiggy;

It's not expensive at all. The connection from the plant to the ISP is a single fiber. When you get access you receive a MUX that's installed in the building. The MUX is usually used to convert your router's link from whatever you purchased (DS-3, OC-3, etc...) to the provider's uplink, which is usually an OC-12 or faster. The provider already paid for the fiber, and the provider has at least one huge MUX in its location, so there's no change in cost for the provider.

A MUX is a wonderful device in that it can take several lower-speed links and group them onto a faster link. These days that's usually accomplished by giving each low-speed link a unique wavelength of light, and each link can support 40 wavelengths at 40Gbits/sec. So the Internet access would be on one router path that maps to one wavelength, and the private network would be on another router path mapped to another wavelength.

Once the wavelengths hit the provider's MUX they would be split to hit different provider infrastructures: the Internet routers on one side, and the VPN routers on another. All providers support this, but you pay extra money because you don't know this is available. As a former ISP engineer and client I always get this setup, and cheap, too. You just need to use the same provider throughout the country, which is possible if you use Verizon, Level3, etc...

RE: So much for security
By Iaiken on 8/4/2010 12:24:33 PM , Rating: 3
The problem is that you have thousands of separately owned utilities, systems operators and transmission controllers.

If you can figure out a good way to get them all on board for that, you go right on ahead. I'll applaud you loudly and proudly, but there is a reason that the phrase "moving at the speed of government" exists.

RE: So much for security
By Jaybus on 8/4/2010 1:36:33 PM , Rating: 2
Of course different stations have to communicate somehow, and the Internet is the least expensive (and probably most robust) way. But do they really have to run Windows, the (by far) most targeted OS???

RE: So much for security
By JediJeb on 8/4/2010 1:52:46 PM , Rating: 4
This is the point exactly. This type of communications could make use of some stripped down proprietary OS that could only communicate to computers running it and nothing else.

Imagine if you ran a network running an Atari or TI 8 bit operating system today and a hacker running Linux or Windows was trying to hack in. I imagine it would be a pain to do and get everything to talk. Better yet use the operating system I had on some equipment back in the early 90s that was 20 bit software. It was on an instrument made by Nicolet. Nothing else in the building could talk to it.

The problem is today we have mission critical(on the verge of being national security critical) systems out there that are not secured in any way shape or form. The possibilities exists to make it very very secure but operators and administrators are lazy and cheap and won't do it.

RE: So much for security
By Wiggy Mcshades on 8/4/2010 12:32:04 PM , Rating: 1
The ISP's lets you set up this service free of charge? This seems to be a great fix even if it's not 100% secure(I know it's not ;P) its at least better than the current set up, but still any cost increase isn't going to be accepted warmly by anyone.

RE: So much for security
By AntDX316 on 8/4/2010 11:24:29 PM , Rating: 2
It goes like this. A hacker gains access to a Nuclear reactors main frame. They then cause the nuclear reactor to melt down. A catastrophe occurs. US High Command then instantly orders and overseas the disconnect and update of every nuclear power plant in the US and the world.

It goes like this. No hacker chooses to melt down the reactor. Nuclear reactors get their computers updated. Nothing bad happens.

RE: So much for security
By EricMartello on 8/6/2010 6:21:56 AM , Rating: 2
Dude, these power companies...they don't need to lay cable if they want a private network they just need ETHERNET-OVER-POWER-LINE adapters and they're all set! :D

RE: So much for security
By Wiggy Mcshades on 8/4/10, Rating: 0
RE: So much for security
By JediJeb on 8/4/2010 1:55:47 PM , Rating: 2
What about IP over Powerlines? Couldn't that technology be adapted to connect the different units of the power distribution system on a private network? For a hacker to get into that they would need to be able to interface with the high voltage cables and that would be a second layer of defense I would think.

RE: So much for security
By zmatt on 8/4/2010 10:47:03 AM , Rating: 2
The military uses Siprnet and it isn't directly connected to the internet. They have separate machines for each. There is no reason why there couldn't be something similar implemented. Put bluntly the things such as military communications and infrastructure have no business being connected.

RE: So much for security
By Wiggy Mcshades on 8/4/2010 11:01:09 AM , Rating: 1
i never said they should be connected, only explain why they are. It's cheaper to use a public network and the plants are privately owned so you know what that means for how they approach costs.

RE: So much for security
By tastyratz on 8/4/2010 10:36:45 AM , Rating: 2
the problem is just like any other. I am sure the relic's they call computers controlling these systems are so simplistic and outdated a scientific calculator would win in a fight.
The security model is out dated because on installation it wasn't a concern. Since when is the government actually known to keep up to date with computer systems?

I remember reading this year that the DMV JUST upgraded from a 20-30 year old mainframe. Can you imagine that?

I think you will be shocked to find the systems in place at our nations critical centers. This audit should have been done 3 times by now, and legislation should be in place mandating minimum standards for compliance to protect us from budget redirects and oversights.

RE: So much for security
By Iaiken on 8/4/2010 10:48:35 AM , Rating: 5
When I was at the electricity system operator of Ontario, they had just finished virtualizing enough computers to fill a 40m by 80m server room into a single HP rack server connected to another SAN rack and the rest of the network via fiber optic interlink.

It was kind of eerie to be standing in a huge/cold/white room that was empty except for two black obelisks in it.

But yeah, there were times in college where I looked at my TI graphing calculator and thought "I could have won WW2 with this thing."

RE: So much for security
By FITCamaro on 8/4/2010 12:17:55 PM , Rating: 3
Ah so that's where they filmed that IBM commercial.

RE: So much for security
By macthemechanic on 8/7/2010 1:40:27 AM , Rating: 2
They don't need to be. They just need access to the Internet. If they are running any commercial OS, they all directly and with installed software loaded, report information and usage back across the Internet. Also much used for license monitoring. If it's on, and they have access to the Internet, they can be hacked.

no worries
By Gul Westfale on 8/4/2010 10:32:52 AM , Rating: 2
bruce willis and his magic cellphone will save us.

RE: no worries
By DuctTapeAvenger on 8/4/2010 10:54:42 AM , Rating: 2
Willis? Pfft. While he's off driving cars into helicopters and chauffeuring around hipster punks, Stallone will be standing on top of a nuclear reactor cooling tower with an anti-aircraft machine gun firing in the direction of the hackers while wearing a red bandanna and screaming at the top of his lungs.

RE: no worries
By RamarC on 8/4/2010 11:45:29 AM , Rating: 2
not stallone... ben stiller with a gun in one hand and a baby in the other.

RE: no worries
By NanoTube1 on 8/4/2010 8:22:09 PM , Rating: 2
All the security systems have to do is identify themselves with the following bit sequence:

0100001101101000011101010110001101101011001000000 10011100110111101110010011100100110100101110011
(Chuck Norris)

Problem solved.

RE: no worries
By syphon on 8/4/2010 11:39:11 AM , Rating: 2
I was hoping there would be a Die Hard reference in here.

This sounds like the movie all over again..we just need Bruce Willis and Justin Long to save the world!

RE: no worries
By sviola on 8/4/2010 1:20:13 PM , Rating: 3
Sorry to tell you, but Justin Long will not be of much help: he's a Mac.

RE: no worries
By JediJeb on 8/4/2010 1:59:28 PM , Rating: 2
LOL how I wish I still had a vote left for this one.

Welcome to several years ago
By DuctTapeAvenger on 8/4/2010 10:44:46 AM , Rating: 2
This is not a recent concern. The only question is if steps have been taken to help prevent this, and if not, why? The government and security groups are aware of the flaws in this system, and have documented cases of how easy it is to break in, and what the effects would be.

I really wish I could remember the name of the news series, but there was a couple videos made a few years ago about the attempts on our infrastructure (potential and real), and the fight against it. It outlined how easy it is to get into our systems, what would need to be done to protect them, and the steps that have been made to start working against these threats. It's scary how easy it was for them to gain access to critical components of major facilities, and cause damage.

RE: Welcome to several years ago
By BF04 on 8/4/2010 11:51:12 AM , Rating: 1
"I remember reading this year that the DMV JUST upgraded from a 20-30 year old mainframe. Can you imagine that?"

They had to go back to the mainframe. The one guy who was the administrator complained to the union. The union forced DMV to go back to the mainframe as it would put him out of a job. He has no requirement to train for anything new. So in another 20-30yrs after he retires they can upgrade.

/sarcasm off, yes I am kidding but only about that particular article. I have a friend who is desperately trying to upgrade some government networks but cannot because of the union will not allow it due to the workers.

We do have a ton of stimulus money left. Besides paying to study African ants, maybe we could build the private network. I think the private network is the best real solution and really is not that hard to do.

RE: Welcome to several years ago
By JediJeb on 8/4/2010 2:07:04 PM , Rating: 2
It is sad but true. I am all for Unions protecting workers from bad employers, but when they put security at risk or cause places to operate far less efficient just to protect a few jobs then they have lost their usefulness. Seriously, they have caused more jobs to be lost by off-shoring than they have saved using this tactic.

RE: Welcome to several years ago
By HrilL on 8/4/2010 6:20:22 PM , Rating: 2
We don't need a different network. The Current networks are already designed to have networks within the overall bigger network. Lots of companies have inter WAN networks that go all around the world and they are not connected to the Internet per say. While it does use the same infrastructure it is no one the same network. The problem is that lease lines cost more because the telco companies know they got your balls in their grip if you want a completely secure WAN.

Hiring hackers
By Spind on 8/5/2010 1:18:41 AM , Rating: 2
MS has seen too many such incidents...I wonder whether they have separate in-house hacking team to test the security loopholes in the OS?

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki