Researchers warn of serious Honeywell flaws
ReutersSAN JUAN, Puerto Rico--A widely used system for controlling electricity, heating and other systems inside buildings remains vulnerable to attacks over the Internet, despite warnings from U.S. officials, researchers said on Tuesday.
February 7, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
The Niagara control system from Honeywell International Inc.'s Tridium division is configured to connect to the Internet by default, even though that is not necessary for them to function, two researchers from security firm CyLance said at a security conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The pair, Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle, uncovered vulnerabilities last year that prompted the Department of Homeland Security to warn customers to change their settings and resulted in Honeywell releasing a software update that the two researchers previously said had successfully addressed the problems.
Yet they revealed on Tuesday they have since uncovered new flaws in Tridium's technology that continue to make customers vulnerable to attacks via the Internet.
They showed they could take control of a Niagara system using a new piece of software they had written to demonstrate the vulnerabilities in the system.
They declined to explain their techniques out of concern that malicious hackers might try to copy their methods. They said attackers could accomplish the same ends by taking advantage of weak encryption and passwords stored internally on the Tridium control devices.
Once inside, hackers could wreak havoc with the physical environment and in many cases could also jump to a building's main office computers, McCorkle said.
“It's a little worrisome,” McCorkle said. “Don't put it on the Net.”
A Honeywell spokesman said the company was working to address the new problems as quickly as possible and would alert customers of the risks.
“We appreciate the fact that Mr. Rios and Mr. McCorkle are continuously reminding the user community of these sorts of vulnerabilities and we share their interest in getting them fixed,” said Honeywell spokesman Mark Hamel.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard declined to comment on the security of the Niagara technology.
Poor security in industrial control systems, including those that run manufacturing facilities and power plants, has become an intense focus for security researchers and hackers alike since 2010 when the Stuxnet virus surfaced.
Stuxnet attacked Iran's nuclear program, targeting centrifuges at a uranium enrichment facility running on widely used control systems from German conglomerate Siemens AG. It exploited previously unknown security flaws in Siemens technology.
Scores of security experts have since rushed to identify similar bugs in an effort to prevent malicious hackers from launching potentially devastating attacks on power systems, chemical plants, water utilities and other facilities that run on industrial control systems technology.