Hackers can penetrate the corporate IT network of a manufacturing company, then gain access to a robot’s controller software and, by exploiting a vulnerability remotely, download a tampered configuration file. As a result, instead of a straight line, the robotic arm draws one that is 2 mm off. This minuscule defect, if left unnoticed, could lead to catastrophic effects in this hypothetical example — this line is responsible for welding the chassis of a car that, if compromised, could result in casualties and a vehicle recall.
A decade ago, this would sound like the plot of a straight-to-DVD film. Today, it’s a proof-of-concept attack that hit headlines in May. As you might have guessed, I’m speaking about research conducted by specialists at Trend Micro and Politecnico di Milano, who discovered vulnerabilities in an ABB IRB140 industrial robot as well as in other industrial controllers.
The described scenario is not the only possible one. I warned about similar attacks a year ago. The tiniest of variances in the performance of operational technology could cause manufacturing disruptions, leading to defective products (meaning recalls and reputational losses), production downtime, physical damage, and even injuries and deaths.
As the example above showed, the most worrisome cases are when hackers’ actions are almost undetectable. Such minuscule defects may come in many forms. To give you another example: A hacker can slightly change welding conditions (e.g., lower temperature and time) in any part of a car manufacturing process so that two pieces will be joined not as firmly as is required. As a result, the car would be less safe, but the hack would go unnoticed.
The aforementioned research is not the only piece of evidence. Manufacturing is the second most attacked industry. Of course, not all attacks are conducted against critical infrastructure. Hackers are typically financially motivated, and thus focus on industrial espionage. For instance, in 2015, a backdoor Trojan known as “Duuzer” was used by malicious actors to steal sensitive information from South Korean manufacturing organizations.
The first confirmed case of a cyberattack against manufacturing that caused physical damage also occurred in 2015, when hackers attacked a steel mill in Germany. As a result, a blast furnace was compromised and could not be shut down.
Content from Forbes.COM