Vulnerability in NI Controller Can Allow Hackers to Remotely Disrupt Production

A potentially serious vulnerability affecting CompactRIO controllers made by NI (National Instruments) could allow hackers to remotely disrupt production processes in an organization, according to researchers.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) last week published an ICS-CERT advisory to inform organizations about a high-severity vulnerability affecting NI’s CompactRIO product, a rugged, real-time controller used in industrial environments in sectors such as heavy equipment, industrial manufacturing, transportation, power generation, and oil and gas.CompactRIO controller vulnerability

According to CISA, the vulnerability, identified by researchers at Spain-based industrial cybersecurity company Titanium Industrial Security, is related to “incorrect permissions set by default for an API entry-point of a specific service.” A remote and unauthenticated attacker can leverage the flaw to trigger a function that can cause the device to reboot.

The security hole, tracked as CVE-2020-25191, has been patched by NI and the CISA advisory contains instructions on how to deploy the patch, but it’s worth noting that part of the patching process needs to be repeated for each of the affected CompactRIO controllers.

“We are aware of the issue and have taken immediate action to address the vulnerability in recent versions of NI’s CompactRio driver,” an NI spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We are not aware of any incidents where this potential vulnerability has been exploited but have provided recommended steps for mitigation as part of the disclosure filed with CISA. Maintaining the safety and security of all NI products remains our top priority.”

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Borja Lanseros, CEO of Titanium Industrial Security, told SecurityWeek that the vulnerability was reported to the vendor in May 2019, but it was only patched in September 2020.

Lanseros explained that an attacker could exploit the vulnerability to repeatedly reboot the device, causing a prolonged denial-of-service (DoS) condition and potentially disrupting associated industrial processes.

“[An attack can cause] a sudden stop of the production process for some period of time. This could lead to economic losses for the affected company,” Lanseros said.

The security hole can be exploited remotely from the internet and Titanium Industrial Security said it had identified nearly 150 internet-exposed devices using the Shodan search engine.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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