Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

VxWorks TCP/IP Stack Vulnerability Poses Major Manufacturing Risk

A new analysis shows the scale of risk posed by networking vulnerabilities in a popular embedded real-time operating system.

When a major vulnerability recently was found in VxWorks, it may not have hit the radar screen of most IT departments. But for organizations in the automated process control and building automation sectors, the news was troubling. And even more troubling is that hundreds of thousands of organizations don't know they could now be at risk to VxWorks-borne cyberattacks.

The scale of the risk posed by the VxWorks TCP/IP stack vulnerability is the subject of a new report from Kovrr, a firm that analyzes risk for the insurance and financial industries. The report points out that VxWorks is embedded in more than 2 billion devices. Shalom Bublil, co-founder and chief risk officer at Kovrr, says the pervasiveness of Vxworks was eye-opening.

"The surprising thing is the sheer popularity of the operating system embedded in many other devices that are common in manufacturing. This was a surprise to us and I believe it will be a surprise to others as well," Bublil says.

While most IT risk scenarios focus on data loss, the report says that the  greatest impact of an exploit targeting this vulnerability could be business interruption — an attack on the ability of a business to deliver products and serve the needs of their customers.

The Kovrr report doesn't name any specific companies vulnerable to such an attack, but it includes companies large enough to have an impact on global stock markets and gross domestic products are affected. The report goes into detail on the methodology used for setting the risk and its potential economic cost.

According to the report, Kovrr took into account the specifics of company attributes and multiplied that score by the number of VxWorks instances on the ground at the company’s facilities. In the example of a theoretical automobile manufacturer, the result is a financial risk of $7,295,000,000. Using the same formula applied to a larger set of industrial companies, Kovrr calculates a total financial risk of nearly $19 billion.

Though Bublil feels confident that the companies will remediate the vulnerability — eventually — he says that there are factors that contribute to a long on-ramp to remediation. "It's not because of our lack of access to expertise, but operational complexity and the overwhelming need for the devices to keep running without interruption means that there are these tradeoffs that the companies have to make," he explains.

In addition, many of the vulnerable devices contain VXworks in a configuration that makes the OS invisible to the company's staff. That makes the manufacturers captive to supply chain issues that can involve multiple layers of suppliers and responsibility. "It's not just the manufacturers that have to patch — they have to get their third-party providers to do that," Bublil says.

This is an example, the report states, of the risk that can come from a single point of failure — in this case, a single embedded operating system. Ultimately, the risk at an individual company comes down to whether or not the company has a reasonable threat scenario in place, Bublil says. "The tricky piece is understanding the security controls the business has in place and the mitigations they can employ," he explains.

Note: This article has been updated to include revised risk dollar amounts based on new assessments provided by Kovrr. A link to the full report has also been included.

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: Modern Technology, Modern Mistakes.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/14/2020
Lock-Pickers Face an Uncertain Future Online
Seth Rosenblatt, Contributing Writer,  8/10/2020
Hacking It as a CISO: Advice for Security Leadership
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  8/10/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
7 New Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities That Could Put Your Enterprise at Risk
In this Dark Reading Tech Digest, we look at the ways security researchers and ethical hackers find critical vulnerabilities and offer insights into how you can fix them before attackers can exploit them.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-17475
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
Lack of authentication in the network relays used in MEGVII Koala 2.9.1-c3s allows attackers to grant physical access to anyone by sending packet data to UDP port 5000.
CVE-2020-0255
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: CVE-2020-10751. Reason: This candidate is a duplicate of CVE-2020-10751. Notes: All CVE users should reference CVE-2020-10751 instead of this candidate. All references and descriptions in this candidate have been removed to prevent accidenta...
CVE-2020-14353
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: CVE-2017-18270. Reason: This candidate is a duplicate of CVE-2017-18270. Notes: All CVE users should reference CVE-2017-18270 instead of this candidate. All references and descriptions in this candidate have been removed to prevent accidenta...
CVE-2020-17464
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: none. Reason: This candidate was withdrawn by its CNA. Further investigation showed that it was not a security issue. Notes: none.
CVE-2020-17473
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
Lack of mutual authentication in ZKTeco FaceDepot 7B 1.0.213 and ZKBiosecurity Server 1.0.0_20190723 allows an attacker to obtain a long-lasting token by impersonating the server.