Cybersecurity researchers next week will demonstrate how hackers can potentially wreak havoc on critical US infrastructure, even causing explosions by altering the readings on wireless sensors used by the oil and gas industry.

The presentations at the Black Hat conference will show how key industries remain vulnerable to cyber attacks, in part because companies are reluctant to replace expensive equipment or install new safeguards unless ordered to do so by regulators or offered economic incentives, experts say.

“We’ve got this cancer that is growing inside our critical infrastructure. When are we going to go under the knife instead of letting this fester?” said Patrick C. Miller, founder of the nonprofit Energy Sector Security Consortium.

“We need to restructure some regulations and incentives.”

The new research on wireless sensors found flaws in the way they handle encryption, Lucas Apa and Carlos Mario Penagos of security consulting firm IOActive Inc said.

They said they could contact some of the sensors with radio transmissions from as far as 40 miles (64 km) away and alter pressure, volume and other readings. If the overall control systems act on those readings without a failsafe, the researchers said, they could permanently disable a pipeline or plant.

The sensors typically cost $1,000 or $2,000 and are deployed in the hundreds or thousands at a single oil, gas or water processor. The researchers said the flaws were found in devices supplied by three of the largest vendors in the field, but declined to identify them.

Penagos said most refineries that have the capability to monitor gas levels or temperature probably have the vulnerable devices in place. In some cases the sensors have a design flaw, while in other cases the customers installed them insecurely.

Either way, “the entire industrial process could be disabled or modified by disrupting the physical sensors,” Apa said.

Source: One News

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