SCADA Beware!

In case you thought hacking of our critical infrastructure and SCADA systems only happens in the movies, like with Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard, watch these unbelievable videos of what Max Corne seemingly does to the energy, maritime infrastructure, and highway transportation systems.Max apparently is able turn off (and on) the lights in entire office towers–one and then another, control a drawbridge (up and down)–and has people and cars waiting and backed up, and even changes traffic signals–from speeds of 50 to 5 as well the message boards to motorists.

While I understand some have questioned the validity of these videos and have called them hoaxes, the point that I come away with is not so much whether this guy is or is not actually hacking into these computer and control systems as much as that the people and organizations with the right skills coulddo these things.

And rest assured that there those out there that can perform these hack attacks–reference the Stuxnet worm that attacks Siemen industrial control systems such as those used in the nuclear industry (June 2010).

I also heard a story that I don’t know whether it is true or not, about how a cyber expert personally dealt with a very loud and unruly neighbor who was playing Xbox 360 at 3 AM and keeping him awake. So the cyber expert simply hacked into his neighbor’s Xbox game over the Internet and set off a program that whenever his neighbor tried to play it, a timer would automatically turn the Xbox back off again (neighbor turns it on again, hack turns it off again….), until at one point, the cyber expert heard the neighbor pick something up (presumably the Xbox) and throw it against the wall.

In this story, the damage was limited, in other cases as the Max Corne videos demonstrate (in terms of the realm of the possible), when hackers attack our critical infrastructure and control systems, the results can truly be life threatening, majorly disruptive, and can cause widespread chaos.

Every day, there are digital natives (in terms of their advanced computer skills) that are proving what they can do to bypass our firewalls, antivirus protection, intrusion detection systems, and more.

While in the case of the hack attack on the Xbox, that was the end of the problem for the loud playing neighbor keeping this other guy up at night, but in general, the unbelievable ability of some hackers to break into major systems and manipulate controls systems and disrupt critical infrastructure is certainly no game, no laughing matter, and something that should keeps us up at night (Xbox playing or not).

The takeaway is that rather than demonize and discourage those who have the skills to figure this “stuff” out, we should actually encourage them to become the best white hat hackers they can be with it, and then recruit them into “ethical hacking” positions, so that they work for the good guys to defeat those who would do us all harm.

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One response to “SCADA Beware!

  1. In the second video, Max mentions that *he* installed a PLC on the bridge control. It’s a brute force hack if physical access is gained to these facilities. The same could be accomplished by any child using a crowbar or by throwing a brick at a stained glass window. What would be an impressive (scary) hack is if he were able to accomplish these pranks without demonstrated physical access to the facilities.

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