Staged Attack Causes Generator to Self-Destruct
I assume you’ve all seen the news:
A government video shows the potential destruction caused by hackers seizing control of a crucial part of the U.S. electrical grid: an industrial turbine spinning wildly out of control until it becomes a smoking hulk and power shuts down.
The video, produced for the Homeland Security Department and obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday, was marked “Official Use Only.” It shows commands quietly triggered by simulated hackers having such a violent reaction that the enormous turbine shudders as pieces fly apart and it belches black-and-white smoke.
The video was produced for top U.S. policy makers by the Idaho National Laboratory, which has studied the little-understood risks to the specialized electronic equipment that operates power, water and chemical plants. Vice President Dick Cheney is among those who have watched the video, said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because this official was not authorized to publicly discuss such high-level briefings.
I haven’t written much about SCADA security, except to say that I think the risk is overblown today but is getting more serious all the time—and we need to deal with the security before it’s too late. I didn’t know quite what to make of the Idaho National Laboratory video; it seemed like hype, but I couldn’t find any details. (The CNN headline, “Mouse click could plunge city into darkness, experts say,” was definitely hype.)
Then, I received this anonymous e-mail:
I was one of the industry technical folks the DHS consulted in developing the “immediate and required” mitigation strategies for this problem.
They talked to several industry groups (mostly management not tech folks): electric, refining, chemical, and water. They ignored most of what we said but attached our names to the technical parts of the report to make it look credible. We softened or eliminated quite a few sections that may have had relevance 20 years ago, such as war dialing attacks against modems.
The end product is a work order document from DHS which requires such things as background checks on people who have access to modems and logging their visits to sites with datacom equipment or control systems.
By the way—they were unable to hurt the generator you see in the video but did destroy the shaft that drives it and the power unit. They triggered the event from 30 miles away! Then they extrapolated the theory that a malfunctioning generator can destroy not only generators at the power company but the power glitches on the grid would destroy motors many miles away on the electric grid that pump water or gasoline (through pipelines).
They kept everything very secret (all emails and reports encrypted, high security meetings in DC) until they produced a video and press release for CNN. There was huge concern by DHS that this vulnerability would become known to the bad guys—yet now they release it to the world for their own career reasons. Beyond shameful.
Oh, and they did use a contractor for all the heavy lifting that went into writing/revising the required mitigations document. Could not even produce this work product on their own.
By the way, the vulnerability they hypothesize is completely bogus but I won’t say more about the details. Gitmo is still too hot for me this time of year.