Security Experts:

Arbiter Systems Substation Clock Vulnerable to GPS Spoofing Attacks

A vulnerability has been identified in a substation clock from Arbiter Systems, a company that designs and manufactures time and power measurement solutions for electrical utilities.

Electrical substations are part of the generation, transmission, and distribution system. They are used for transforming voltage and for other important functions. In order to ensure power supply integrity and smooth power transfer, substations require precise time synchronization. Substation devices use accurate clocks for data acquisition, system control and other tasks.

The Model 1094B GPS Substation Clock developed by Arbiter Systems is plagued by a GPS clock spoofing vulnerability (CVE-2014-9194) that can be leveraged to disrupt the clock’s accuracy. The flaw has been assigned a CVSS v2 base score of 5.4.

“Impact to individual organizations depends on many factors that are unique to each organization. ICS-CERT recommends that organizations evaluate the impact of this vulnerability based on their operational environment, architecture, and product implementation,” ICS-CERT wrote in an advisory published last week.

The security hole allows a skilled attacker to remotely disrupt the clock by using specialized radio equipment.

Arbiter Systems, whose products are primarily deployed in the United States, has developed a new product, the 1200 series, that is not vulnerable to this type of attack.

The company says it’s not aware of any attacks leveraging this vulnerability or public exploits for the flaw. Because it’s not easy to create an exploit to spoof the GPS signal and because Arbiter Systems believes this is unlikely to happen, the company will continue selling the 1094B model.

“In the unlikely event that the 1094B has been compromised, it can be recovered by removing and replacing the internal receiver battery. Arbiter Systems plans to investigate the feasibility of changing this model to protect against this type of exploit,” ICS-CERT noted.

Cyberattacks against industrial control systems (ICS) are becoming increasingly problematic. A report published last year by the German government revealed that a steel plant suffered significant damage as a result of a cyberattack.

Some vendors are aware of the threats and they’ve started treating security flaws seriously. Last year, Russian researchers uncovered a total of 32 vulnerable Device Type Manager (DTM) components. One of them is the CodeWrights HART DTM library, which is used by many companies for HART-based filed devices.

CodeWrights has addressed the issue by releasing a new version of the library. Emerson has already started integrating the new library in its products. ICS-CERT says products from ABB, Berthold Technologies, Endress+Hauser, Magnetrol, and Pepperl+Fuchs could also be impacted.

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