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CPLINK Windows Exploit that Targets Power Grids “A Huge Mess”

IT security firm Sophos this week issued new guidance on a Windows Zero Day vulnerability that is already being used to target critical infrastructure systems, including power grids. Exploit code for what Sophos terms the “CPLINK” vulnerability is widely available. In response to the situation, the SANS Institute has taken the uncommon step of raising its industry Infocon vulnerability alert level.

IT security firm Sophos this week issued new guidance on a Windows Zero Day vulnerability that is already being used to target critical infrastructure systems, including power grids. Exploit code for what Sophos terms the “CPLINK” vulnerability is widely available. In response to the situation, the SANS Institute has taken the uncommon step of raising its industry Infocon vulnerability alert level.

The vulnerability is present in all Windows platforms, including Windows 2000 and Windows XP SP2, which are no longer officially supported by Microsoft as of this week. Initially associated with removable USB storage devices, the CPLINK vulnerability requires no direct user interaction to deliver its Trojan payload.

What’s particularly ominous about this exploit is that its early versions have been programmed to seek out Siemens’ SCADA software (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition), which is used to manage industrial infrastructures such as power grids and manufacturing. SCADA’s default passwords are widely available, but system operators have been advised by Siemens not to change them, because doing so could put operations as risk.

Chester Wisniewski, senior security analyst for Sophos, summed up the situation succinctly. “Critical Infrastructure providers seem to be caught between the frying pan and the fire. Hackers have the passwords, yet providers are being told if they change the default settings, they could put operations at risk. Frankly, this is a huge mess.”

A more detailed description of the vulnerability and its associated dangers, along with a video demonstration, can be found at the Sophos web site.

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