Attacks on industrial machines: security risks associated with connected radio remote controls

Trend Micro published the results of the A Security Analysis of Radio Remote Controllers for Industrial Applications study (PDF, EN) (“Analysis of systems of remote radio control of industrial equipment from a security point of view”), in which company experts consider the vulnerabilities of such systems on the example of the seven most popular manufacturers, the main types of cybercrime attacks on businesses with their use and key methods to prevent such attacks.

Radio remote control systems are widely used in manufacturing, construction, transportation of goods and other areas. They are equipped with many cranes, drilling equipment, engineering equipment and mining equipment, which is characterized by a long service life, high replacement costs and difficulties in updating the firmware and software. In this regard, in the era of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), which involves the active interaction of devices with each other and with the outside world and the massive introduction of automation, such industrial equipment can become another “weak link” in protecting the enterprise from cybercriminals.

Considering the fact that millions of units of remotely controlled equipment are used in the world, which are practically unprotected from intruders, the latter can intercept the management of such equipment at the software level, substitute commands coming from the control panel, initiate emergency shutdown and organize various types of attacks using these methods . Among them it is necessary to single out: sabotage and temporary suspension of the enterprise’s activities, the scale and damage of which will differ greatly depending on how important the affected enterprise is for the industry; theft of products from ports and automated logistics centers using hoists and other radio-controlled equipment; extortion, in which the attacker purposefully causes a halt in production or damage to valuable equipment, leading to losses, and then demands a ransom in exchange for stopping the attacks.

The study examines the main methods of protection that are used in the development of remote radio control systems by the most popular manufacturers and their weak points, for example, secure connection using a common access code for the transmitter and receiver, and password protection of the transmitter terminal, unlocking certain transmitter functions using key cards and the use of redundant protection systems (say, an infrared communication channel that turns off the receiver if the remote control goes beyond ICS his actions). In the first cases, attackers may sooner or later learn passwords or make a copy / steal a key card, and in the latter, bypass the security protocol or act knowing the radius of its work, Trend Micro experts say. At the same time, the effectiveness of the applied methods of protection substantially depends on the general level of information security in the enterprise, and it is impossible to call them by themselves reliable or not.

In general, in the course of the study, Trend Micro found out that the industry (as opposed to the consumer sphere) practically does not develop the cyber defense culture of radio-controlled equipment, despite the fact that its cost and possible losses many times exceed the cost of consumer equipment. At the same time, one of the results of Trend Micro experts has already been the growing interest of equipment manufacturers on this issue and the acceptance of responsibility to customers for ensuring the cyber security of their products. The full research report is available on Trend Micro site.

About Trend Micro

Trend Micro Incorporated, the global leader in cybersecurity solutions, helps make the world safer for sharing digital information. Trend Micro’s innovative solutions for consumers, businesses, and government agencies provide layered security for data centers, cloud-based business solutions, networks, and endpoints. Trend Micro has more than 6,000 employees in 50 countries.

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