Simulated ransomware attack shows vulnerability of industrial controls

From www.eurekalert.com

Credit: Credit: Christopher Moore, Georgia Tech

Cybersecurity researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new form of ransomware that can take over control of a simulated water treatment plant. After gaining access, they were able to command programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to shut valves, increase the amount of chlorine added to water, and display false readings.

The simulated attack was designed to highlight vulnerabilities in the control systems used to operate industrial facilities such as manufacturing plants, water and wastewater treatment facilities, and building management systems for controlling escalators, elevators and HVAC systems. Believed to be the first to demonstrate ransomware compromise of real PLCs, the research is scheduled to be presented February 13 at the RSA Conference in San Francisco.

Though no real ransomware attacks have been publicly reported on the process control components of industrial control systems, the attacks have become a significant problem for patient data in hospitals and customer data in businesses. Attackers gain access to these systems and encrypt the data, demanding a ransom to provide the encryption key that allows the data to be used again.

Ransomware generated an estimated $200 million for attackers during the first quarter of 2016, and the researchers believe it's only a matter of time before critical industrial systems are compromised and held for ransom.

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