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    Rights statement: This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Computers and Security. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Computers and Security, 110, 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.cose.2021.102424

    Accepted author manuscript, 427 KB, PDF document

    Embargo ends: 8/08/22

    Available under license: CC BY-NC-ND: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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PCaaD: Towards automated determination and exploitation of industrial systems

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

Published
Article number102424
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/11/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>Computers and Security
Volume110
Number of pages19
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date8/08/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Over the last decade, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) have been increasingly targeted by attackers to obtain control over industrial processes that support critical services. Such targeted attacks typically require detailed knowledge of system-specific attributes, including hardware configurations, adopted protocols, and PLC control-logic, i.e., process comprehension. The consensus from both academics and practitioners suggests stealthy process comprehension obtained from a PLC alone, to execute targeted attacks, is impractical. In contrast, we assert that current PLC programming practices open the door to a new vulnerability class, affording attackers an increased level of process comprehension. To support this, we propose the concept of Process Comprehension at a Distance (PCaaD), as a novel methodological and automatable approach towards the system-agnostic identification of PLC library functions. This leads to the targeted exfiltration of operational data, manipulation of control-logic behavior, and establishment of covert command and control channels through unused memory. We validate PCaaD on widely used PLCs through its practical application.

Bibliographic note

This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Computers and Security. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Computers and Security, 110, 2021 DOI: 10.1016/j.cose.2021.102424