Securing SCADA systems still a piecemeal affair

Security company is working on a product that can allegedly mitigate entire classes of vulnerabilities in SCADA systems

By Lucian Constantin, IDG News Service |  Security

ReVuln's founders Luigi Auriemma and Donato Ferrante presented the company's custom patch service and the prototype of a new product called SCADA Shield last week at the 2013 SCADA Security Scientific Symposium (S4) in Miami.

SCADA Shield is designed to mitigate entire classes of vulnerabilities, including stack-based overflow, heap-based overflow, command injection, directory traversal, use-after-free and double-free vulnerabilities. The product does not require any installation and its core functionalities are implemented in user-level code, the company said.

There are some features that use kernel-level code, but those are optional and work is being done to reduce the kernel-level code as much as possible in order to enhance portability. "The prototype works on Windows-based systems, from Windows 98 to the latest version of Windows," the company said. The user just need to specify what process needs to be protected.

SCADA Shield also uses some runtime patching techniques, but only some optional features, ReVuln said.

"I seriously doubt that this kind of solutions will be adopted in a highly critical industrial environment," Ruben Santamarta, a security researcher with security consultancy firm IOActive, said via email. "We have to understand that our common IT procedures are not always the best option for the industrial sector."

Patching is still a problem in the IT world, so people have to be realistic, he said. The risk that industrial facilities face if they start deploying products that fundamentally change the code of other products is high.

Santamarta favors a defense-in-depth approach to securing SCADA systems that doesn't focus on the end-point, but on the architecture of the whole industrial control system. The end-point should be considered an already compromised asset, he said.

The solution to patching software should not be to install additional software that might require patching as well, Santamarta said.

The decision to develop SCADA defensive solutions is somewhat unusual for ReVuln, considering that the company also sells information about zero-day vulnerabilities to private buyers, including government agencies, without reporting them to the affected vendors. Around 45 percent of the vulnerabilities in ReVuln's portfolio are located in SCADA software.

ReVuln hasn't received any feedback from customers regarding its custom patch service yet, but said that there was a lot of interest in both products after their presentation at the S4 conference.

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