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Grand Visions Fizzle in Brazil

The NYT has an incredibly depressing view of the way that Brasil is moving forward; while much of it is shared by the citizens of that country the article is overly one-sided and generally lacks a comprehensive understanding of why some of the cost overruns and setbacks have happened. We read that environmental protections and efforts to work with aboriginal people’s have led to railroads being delayed: why were there such expectations of a smooth and quick development of such railroads in the first place? Perhaps because the ‘frictions’ of such development (i.e. environment and people living on the land) had been cast aside?

What is largely missing throughout the piece is the context: why were certain projects put forward and then abandoned? In the absence of such context we’re left with the impression that the setbacks are the result of poor management and bureaucracy but is this the case, or simply the projection of American values onto specific South American infrastructure decisions?

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Another ‘Victory’ for the Internet of Things

Researchers have found, once again, that sensitive systems have been placed on the Internet without even the most basic of security precautions. The result?

Analyzing a database of a year’s worth of Internet scan results [H.D. Moore]’s assembled known as Critical.io, as well as other data from the 2012 Internet Census, Moore discovered that thousands of devices had no authentication, weak or no encryption, default passwords, or had no automatic “log-off” functionality, leaving them pre-authenticated and ready to access. Although he was careful not to actually tamper with any of the systems he connected to, Moore says he could have in some cases switched off the ability to monitor traffic lights, disabled trucking companies’ gas pumps or faked credentials to get free fuel, sent fake alerts over public safety system alert systems, and changed environmental settings in buildings to burn out equipment or turn off refrigeration, leaving food stores to rot.

Needless to say, Moore’s findings are telling insofar as they reveal that engineers responsible for maintaining our infrastructures are often unable to secure those infrastructures from third-parties. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that a hostile third-party has significantly taken advantage of poorly-secured and Internet-connected equipment, but it’s really only a matter until someone does attack this infrastructure to advance their own interests, or simply to reap the lulz.

Findings like Moore’s are only going to be more commonly produced as more and more systems are integrated with the Internet as part of the ‘Internet of Things’. It remains to be seen whether vulnerabilities will routinely be promptly resolved, especially with legacy equipment that enjoys significant sunk costs and limited capital for ongoing maintenance. Given the cascading nature of failures in an interconnected and digitized world, failing to secure our infrastructure means that along with natural disasters we may get to ‘enjoy’ cyber disasters that are both harder to positively identify or subsequently remedy when/if appropriately identified.

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Major Critical Infrastructure Vulnerabilities Disclosed

For years, researchers have warned that the systems that run critical infrastructure have systemic and serious code-based vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, governments have tended to use such warnings as a platform to raise ‘cyber-warfare’ arguments. Many such arguments are thinly-disguised efforts to assert more substantive government surveillance and control over citizens’ rights and expressions of freedom. Few of these arguments genuinely address the concerns researchers raise.

In the face of governmental lacklustre efforts to secure infrastructure, researchers have disclosed critical vulnerabilities in many of the systems responsible for manufacturing facilities, water and waste management plants, oil and gas refineries and pipelines, and chemical production plants. What’s incredibly depressing is this:

The exploits take advantage of the fact that the Modicon Quantum PLC doesn’t require a computer that is communicating with it to authenticate itself or any commands it sends to the PLC—essentially trusting any computer that can talk to the PLC. Without such protection, an unauthorized party with network access can send the device malicious commands to seize control of it, or simply send a “stop” command to halt the system from operating.

These kinds of ‘attacks’ or ‘exploits’ are possible because the most basic security precautions are not integrated into the logic controllers running such infrastructure. On the one hand this makes sense: many PLCs and the infrastructure they are embedded in were created and deployed prior to ‘the Internet’ being what it is today. On the other, however, one has to ask: if the money spent on security theatre at airports had been invested in hardening actual PLCs and other infrastructure, where would critical infrastructure security be today?