Kaspersky Lab discovers critical vulnerabilities in popular industrial protocol

Woburn, MA – May 10, 2018 – Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT has analyzed the OPC UA (Object Linking and Embedding for Process Control Unified Automation) protocol, which is designed for secure data transfer between servers and clients in industrial systems, including critical infrastructure. Analysis discovered 17 zero-day vulnerabilities in the protocol’s implementation, leading to denial-of-service threat attacks, as well as remote code execution. In addition, several flaws were found in commercial products built on the protocol. All vulnerabilities were reported to the developers and were fixed by the end of March 2018.

OPC UA is an industrial protocol, which was developed and released by the OPC Foundation in 2006 for reliable and secure data transmission between various systems on an industrial network. This protocol is widely used by major vendors in modern industrial facilities, including manufacturing, pharmaceutical, oil and gas as well as other industries. Its gateways are installed by a growing number of industrial enterprises, for communication in automated process control and telemetry, as well as monitoring and telecontrol systems, allowing these enterprises to unify their management processes. The protocol is also used in IIoT and smart city components, which are increasingly attracting the attention of cybercriminals.

Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT experts analyzed OPC UA architecture and its products. They examined its open-source code (available on GitHub), including a sample sever, and discovered that current implementations of the protocol had code design and writing errors. These errors should not exist in such widespread critical infrastructure software. Overall, 17 zero-day vulnerabilities in the OPC Foundation’s products were identified and reported to the developers, who fixed them accordingly.

In addition, Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT analyzed third-party software based on this industrial protocol, including solutions by leading industry vendors. In most cases, the discovered flaws were caused by the developers not using some of the protocol implementation functions properly. In other cases, vulnerabilities were the result of incorrect modifications applied to the protocol’s infrastructure. As a result, experts discovered the insecure implementation of functions in a commercial product, despite the fact that the original OPC Foundation implementation did not include errors. As a result, such modifications in the protocol’s logic, made by vendors for unknown reasons, were leading to risky functionality.

All vulnerabilities found in the OPC UA protocol implementations could result in heavy damage to the industry. First, there was the risk of denial-of-service (DoS) issues, which could pose serious threats to industrial systems by disrupting or shutting down industrial processes. In addition, remote code execution was possible, allowing attackers to send any type of server commands to control industrial processes, or continue their intrusion into the network.

“Very often software developers put too much trust in industrial protocols, and implement the technology in their solutions without putting the product code through security checks. Therefore, vulnerabilities in the example used can affect complete product lines, so it’s highly important that vendors pay close attention to such widely available technologies,” said Sergey Temnikov, senior security researcher, Kaspersky lab ICS CERT. “Moreover, they should not be deceived by the idea that they can design their own piece of software. Many think this could be more efficient and secure than existing software, but even a brand new piece of software may still contain numerous vulnerabilities.”

Kaspersky Lab recommends organizations adhere to the following best practices:

  • Pay close attention to security checks and testing as a necessary step during the application development process, and do not fully rely on protocols.
  • Conduct audits and pen testing to discover vulnerabilities.
  • Isolate software development processes, so if an application is hacked, attackers won’t be able to get access to the network.

Read more about OPC UA security analysis on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.