PCaaD:Towards automated determination and exploitation of industrial systems

Green, B. and Derbyshire, R. and Krotofil, M. and Knowles, W. and Prince, D. and Suri, N. (2021) PCaaD:Towards automated determination and exploitation of industrial systems. Computers and Security, 110. ISSN 0167-4048

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Over the last decade, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) have been increasingly targeted by attackers to obtain control over industrial processes that support critical services. Such targeted attacks typically require detailed knowledge of system-specific attributes, including hardware configurations, adopted protocols, and PLC control-logic, i.e., process comprehension. The consensus from both academics and practitioners suggests stealthy process comprehension obtained from a PLC alone, to execute targeted attacks, is impractical. In contrast, we assert that current PLC programming practices open the door to a new vulnerability class, affording attackers an increased level of process comprehension. To support this, we propose the concept of Process Comprehension at a Distance (PCaaD), as a novel methodological and automatable approach towards the system-agnostic identification of PLC library functions. This leads to the targeted exfiltration of operational data, manipulation of control-logic behavior, and establishment of covert command and control channels through unused memory. We validate PCaaD on widely used PLCs through its practical application.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Computers and Security
Additional Information:
This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Computers and Security. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Computers and Security, 110, 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.cose.2021.102424
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Deposited On:
27 Jan 2022 13:45
Last Modified:
04 Feb 2023 01:32