Researchers find hundreds of insecure building control systems

Google's office is not the only one in Australia with vulnerable building control software

Intruders used to creep in through ventilation ducts. Now they break in using the software that controls the ventilation.

Hundreds of organisations across Australia are using out-of-date industrial control systems (ICS) to control the lights, heating and cooling, access controls and even the elevators.

Using the Internet to manage buildings is convenient, but it may come at a steep price, presenting new opportunities for hackers.

"Companies have no idea this is even Internet accessible," said Billy Rios, technical and consulting director for Cylance, a security company in Reston, Virginia.

Rios and another Cylance technical director, Terry S. McCorkle Jr., revealed earlier this week that one of Google's offices in Sydney used Tridium's NiagaraAX platform with a security vulnerability that could have allowed them to crank up the heating.

More than 230,000 instances of the NiagaraAX platform, made by Honeywell subsidiary Tridium, based in Richmond, Virginia, are running worldwide.

The Java-based framework is used as the foundation for applications controlling automated security and power systems, lighting and telecommunications.

Cylance found Google's vulnerable system using Shodan, a search engine designed to find any device connected to the Internet, ranging from refrigerators to CCTV cameras to iPhones and wind turbines.

A search of Shodan shows Australia has the third-highest number of active Internet-facing NiagaraAX systems, just behind the United States and Canada, with 658 systems as of Thursday morning. More than 100 are located in Sydney.

In their research, McCorkle said typically three-quarters of the NiagaraAX systems run outdated software. Those newer versions often still have vulnerabilities. Cylance has found problems in NiagaraAX that at worst would allow them override software controls on hardware systems.

For example, even if a heating system is programmed to limit a room's temperature, Rios said one of the vulnerabilities they found in NiagaraAX would allow them to override it.

In Google's case, "Tridium had issued a security patch that would have prevented the intrusion -- but the patch had not been applied to the NiagaraAX system in use at the site," wrote Jenny Graves, Tridium's vice president for marketing communications, in an email.

The NiagaraAX platform is usually installed and maintained by other companies called system integrators.

"It seems like the integrators aren't patching these devices," Rios said. "The problem is the patch is not getting applied to the device on the Internet, and that is the integrator's responsibility."

Graves said Tridium continues "to work with our system integrators and customers to address the problem through seminars, forums and on-line training about security best practices."

With Google's system, it also appeared the integrator, a company called Controlworks, reused login and password credentials for the Web-based control panel. "It very much highlights the poor security practices being used by integrators all over the world," Rios said.

Controlworks, which specializes in building automation and energy management systems, updates customers' systems with patches during maintenance, said Sharyn Gregory, the company's chief financial officer. Some organizations, however, manage their own systems.

The company encourages its customers to use strong passwords, Gregory said. With Google, "we're certainly investigating what may have happened, and we are also reinforcing our current policies," she said.

Google's NiagaraAX system was connected via a digital subscriber line that the company may not have even been aware of, Rios said. Many ICSes installed by system integrators are not incorporated directly into a company's networks, which may allow them to escape regular security scans.

Hardware devices running NiagaraAX also may have two network ports -- one that is connected to the DSL line administered by the systems integrator, and the other port which is connected to the company's internal network, McCorkle said.

The meeting of those two connections is gold for a hacker.

"That is one of the classic ways these devices get connected to the corporate network," Rios said. Attackers find the ICS on the Internet, compromise it and then use it "as a lily pad to get on the corporate network," he said.

Send news tips and comments to Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags CylanceTridiumGooglesecurity

More about GoogleHoneywell

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Jeremy Kirk

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts