Security Flaw Disclosure Debate Boils Over to SCADA Industry

A security information firm says it found 23 flaws in critical infrastructure software and plans to reveal details to the companies involved, while criticizing a rival that refuses to do so.

Download the authoritative guide: The Ultimate Guide to IT Security Vendors

Calling the computerized systems designed to manage critical infrastructure "easy targets," a security researcher at startup Exodus Intelligence announced the firm had found 23 vulnerabilities in the software used to control utilities and energy systems.

In a post Nov. 26, Exodus Intelligence Vice President of Research Aaron Portnoy said that a rival firm's claim to have found nearly a dozen flaws in the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems of six industrial-control system manufacturers inspired him check out the software for himself. In one morning, Portnoy claims to have discovered issues in software from Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Indusoft, RealFlex and Eaton Corp.

"The most interesting thing about these bugs was how trivial they were to find," he wrote in the blog post. "For someone who has spent a lot of time auditing software used in the enterprise and consumer space, SCADA was absurdly simple in comparison. The most difficult part of finding SCADA vulnerabilities seems to be locating the software itself."

Last week, vulnerability-finding firm ReVuln claimed to have found serious vulnerabilities in a number of SCADA software systems, including those made by General Electric, Schneider Electric, Kaskad, Rockwell Automation, Eaton and Siemens. The vulnerabilities ranged from a full compromise of the system to flaws that allow information-stealing attacks, according to a video posted online last week.

In many cases in the past, researchers who found such flaws would inform the affected vendors and help them fix the vulnerabilities, but ReVuln has declined to part with the details of the flaws. Instead, the companies can hire ReVuln to help them improve the software security programs, Luigi Auriemma, a principal and co-founder of ReVuln, said in an email.

"In the past I have exchanged various emails with ICS-CERT (the Industrial Control System Computer Emergency Response Team) and a couple of known SCADA vendors regarding possible partnerships and solutions for having a business and at the same time contacting the vendors of the affected products, but everything failed because they want you to work for free," Auriemma said. "Personally, I don't like to give my valuable stuff for free to multibillionaire vendors."

Security researchers have always bristled at working for free, and Auriemma and co-founder Donato Ferrante created the company to turn their flaw-finding abilities into cash.

Exodus' Portnoy criticized the rival firm for not agreeing to share details of the software security issues. Exodus Intelligence shares the details of every flaw the company purchases, he said. Portnoy looked into the SCADA software because of the implications that any flaw discovered by researchers could have on critical infrastructure, he said.

"This particular situation motivated us to find the vulnerabilities in the interest of preserving the integrity of national infrastructure—and because I was curious how soft SCADA really was," he said.

The 23 flaws allegedly found by Exodus Intelligence include 13 denial-of-service vulnerabilities, typically a less severe flaw than those issues that give an attacker full access to the target computer.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...