First Line of Defense: Hackers Blowing Up Fuel Tanks: Artistic License or Reality?

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First Line of Defense
  Your regular source of security updates from TrendLabs
  August 16, 2015   Follow

Hackers Blowing Up Fuel Tanks: Artistic License or Reality?

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Many Hollywood movies have been made about hackers causing untold destruction in the real world with a simple click of a mouse button. From emptying an entire bank to triggering a nuclear meltdown, the power of the movie hacker seems exaggerated to the point of being cartoonish – in typical Hollywood fashion.

Recently, however, Hollywood’s artistic interpretation of cybercrime is fast becoming reality. Reported earlier this year, an automated tank gauge (ATG) was discovered to be vulnerable to online attacks.

These attacks could then trigger alerts that may cut off the flow of fuel. Not long after that, hacktivist groups were suspected of
  "While Internet connectivity offers lightning-fast turnaround time, updates and processing it also makes these technologies vulnerable to attackers."  
remotely were suspected of remotely tampering with several Guardian AST gas-tank-monitoring systems, with Anonymous as one of the chief suspects While no explosions have been reported yet due to this kind of tampering, similar fuel-storing facilities have indeed failed and caused explosions in the past, caused by errors in their systems. It’s not that hard to draw a line of possibility between the two.

But it’s not just gas pumps that are taking the hit. Data breaches happen nearly every week, usually concerning big corporations and legal institutions. Healthcare devices are proven to be accessible and controllable online. Systems that control industrial facilities, power plants and traffic lights have all been proven to be vulnerable. Even the navigational systems of naval ships could be remotely tampered and cause ships to be completely taken off the map or redirected elsewhere.

The reason for this is these public-facing technologies are becoming more and more connected to the Internet. While Internet connectivity offers lightning-fast turnaround time, updates and processing it also makes these technologies vulnerable to attackers.

Combine this with today’s breed of cybercriminals and threat actors, whose motivations vary from monetary gain, activism, reconnaissance to even simple bragging rights – and you can guarantee that any technology that is exposed to the internet will be attacked. It’s just a matter of when and how hard.

In one of our most recent research projects, we sought to find out just how much one particular kind of public-facing technology is getting attention from attackers, namely gas management tech. We did this by creating dummy gas facilities online, and spread them out worldwide, to see if any attacker would take the bait. Predictably enough, they did – and we discovered that those that we installed in the United States were the ones attacked the most. Not only that, we also discovered that there is a lot of interest at attacking such platforms in underground forums, with hackers and crackers eager to get their own shot.

What does this all mean in the end? Simply put, we need to take the most important public-facing technologies we have off the grid. Not completely removed from the internet, of course – but in their secured and hardened local network, where no attacker from halfway around the world can break in. If global access is indeed needed, then their security should be so strong that access to them is extremely limited and private. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all – one scan from SHODAN, an website that keeps track of Internet-connected devices worldwide, shows that not only are gas pumps connected but also heating systems, surveillance systems, and power plants. What’s worse is that they are protected by the bare minimum level of security, if at all.

We need to get on top of this before it’s too late. We need to stop the movie hacker from crossing over to reality.

For more details about our findings, read our research paper, The GasPot Experiment: Unexamined Perils in Using Gas-Tank-Monitoring Systems.


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