Researchers at CRITIFENCE® Critical Infrastructure and SCADA/ICS Cyber Threats Research Group have demonstrated this week a new proof of concept ransomware attack aiming to erase (clear) the ladder logic diagram in Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). The ransomware a.k.a ClearEnergy affects a massive range of PLC models of world’s largest manufacturers of SCADA and Industrial Control Systems. This includes Schneider Electric Unity series PLCs and Unity OS from version 2.6 and later, other PLC models of leading vendors include GE and Allen-Bradley (MicroLogix family) which are also found to be vulnerable to the ransomware attack.ransomware attack.ransomware a.k.a ClearEnergy affects a massive range of PLC models of world’s largest manufacturers of SCADA and Industrial Control Systems. This includes Schneider Electric Unity series PLCs and Unity OS from version 2.6 and later, other PLC models of leading vendors include GE and Allen-Bradley (MicroLogix family) which are also found to be vulnerable to the ransomware attack.
Ransomware is a type of malware that infects computers and encrypts their content with strong encryption algorithms, and then demands a ransom to decrypt that data. “ClearEnergy attack is based on the most comprehensive and dangerous vulnerability that ever found in Critical Infrastructure, SCADA and ICS Systems, and affects a wide range of vulnerable products from different manufacturers and vendors. These attacks target the most important assets and critical infrastructure and not just because they are easy to attack but also hard to be recovered”. Says Brig. Gen. (ret.) Rami Ben Efraim, CEO at CRITIFENCE.
In 2016 we have seen a rise in ransomware, where the victims were businesses or public organizations that on one hand had poor security and on the other hand the alternative cost of losing business continuity was high. Last year there were reports of a targeted ransomware for PC and other workstation within critical infrastructure, SCADA and industrial control systems. A month ago, scientists from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Georgia Institute of Technology have simulated a proof-of-concept ransomware attack (LogicLocker) in a limited scope designed to attack critical infrastructure, SCADA and industrial control systems.
ClearEnergy acts similarly to other malicious ransomware programs that infect computers and encrypts their content with strong encryption algorithms, and then demands a ransom to decrypt that data back to its original form, with one major difference. ClearEnergy is a malicious ransomware attack designed to target Critical Infrastructure and SCADA systems such nuclear and power plant facilities, water and waste facilities, transportation infrastructure and more.
“Although the codename ClearEnergy, the vulnerabilities behind ClearEnergy ransomware takes us to our worst nightmares where cyber-attacks meets critical infrastructure. Attackers can now take down our electricity, our water supply and our oil and gas infrastructure by compromising power plants, water dams and nuclear plants. Critical Infrastructure are the place in which terrorists, activists, criminals and state actors can make the biggest effect. They have the motivation, and ClearEnergy shows that they have also the opportunity.” Says Brig. Gen. (ret.) Rami Ben Efraim, CEO at CRITIFENCE.
Once ClearEnergy is executed on the victim machine it will search for vulnerable PLCs in order to grab the ladder logic diagram from the PLC and will try to upload it to a remote server. Finally ClearEnergy will start a timer that will trigger a process to wipe the logic diagram from all PLCs after one hour unless the victim will pay in order to cancel the timer and to stop the attack.
SCADA and Industrial Control Systems has been found to be weak in recent years, against numerous types of attacks that result in damages in a form of loss of service which translates to a power outage, or sabotage. The damage that ClearEnergy attack can cause to the critical infrastructure is high since it can cause power failure and other damages to field equipment, thus making the recovery process slow in most cases, and might even bring a plant to a halt.
ClearEnergy, which is based on vulnerabilities CVE-2017-6032 (SVE-82003203) and CVE-2017-6034 (SVE-82003204) that have been discovered by CRITIFENCE security researchers, disclosed profound security flaws in the UMAS protocol of the vendor Schneider Electric. UMAS protocol seems to suffer from critical vulnerabilities in the form of bad design of the protocol session key, which results in an authentication bypass. “UMAS is a Kernel level protocol and an administrative control layer used in Unity series PLC and Unity OS from 2.6. It relies on the Modicon Modbus protocol, a common protocol in Critical Infrastructure, SCADA and industrial control systems and used to access both unallocated and allocated Memory from PLC to SCADA system. What worries our researchers is that it may not be entirely patched within the coming years, since it affects a wide range of hardware and vendors.” Says Mr. Eran Goldstein, CTO and Founder of CRITIFENCE.
Following the disclosure, Schneider Electric has confirmed that the Modicon family of PLCs products are vulnerable to the findings presented by CRITIFENCE and released an Important Cybersecurity Notification (SEVD-2017-065-01). ICS-CERT, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an important advisory earlier this morning. The basic flaws, which was confirmed by Schneider Electric, allows an attacker to guess a weak (1-byte length) session key easily (256 possibilities) or even to sniff it. Using the session key, the attacker is able to get full control of the controller, to read the controller’s program and rewriting it back with the malicious code.
“The recovery process from this type of cyber-attacks can be very hard and slow in most cases due to lack of management resources in the field of SCADA and process automation. Slow recovery process multiplied by the number of devices need be fixed, as well configuration restoration makes the recovery processes very painful”. Says Mr. Alexey Baltacov, Critical Infrastructure Architect at CRITIFENCE
“Recovering from such an attack would be a slow and tedious process, and prone to many failures. Every plant using PLC’s which is part of a production line and would have dozens of these devices all around the plant. Let’s assume that each PLC is indeed backed-up to its recent configuration. It would take a painstakingly long time to recover each and every one of them to its original status.” Says Mr. Eyal Benderski, Head of the Critical Infrastructure and SCADA/ICS Cyber Threats Research Group at CRITIFENCE. “This restoration process would take a long time, on which the plant would be completely shut down. The costs of that shut down could be substantial, and for critical processes it could affect for more than the down-time, as it is the case with energy plants. Consider a process that relies on keeping a constant temperature for a biological agent or chemical process. Breaking the process chain could require re-initialization that may be days and weeks long. Furthermore, since dealing with the OT network is much more complicated for operational reasons, on many occasions plants don’t even have up-to-date backups, which would require complete reconfiguration of the manufacturing process. Given these complications, plants would very much prefer paying the ransom than dealing with the minor chance that the backups will work as expected. Lastly, let’s assume the backups went on-air as soon as possible, what would prevent the same attack from recurring, even after paying?”
About the author:
CRITIFENCE is a leading Critical Infrastructure, SCADA and Industrial Control Systems cyber security firm. The company developed and provides SCADAGate+ unique passive cyber security technology and solutions designed for Critical Infrastructure, SCADA and Industrial Control Systems visibility and vulnerability assessment, which allow monitoring, control and to analyze OT network cyber security events and vulnerabilities easily and entirely passively. CRITIFENCE development team and Critical Infrastructure and SCADA/ICS Cyber Threats Research Group combined from top experienced SCADA and cyber security experts and researchers of the IDF’s Technology & Intelligence Unit 8200 (Israel’s NSA) and the Israeli Air Force (IAF).
For more information about CRITIFENCE refer to: http://www.critifence.com
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(Security Affairs – SCADA, hacking)