Security Experts:

Flaws in Pneumatic Tube System Can Facilitate Cyberattacks on North American Hospitals

Several serious vulnerabilities discovered in a widely used pneumatic tube system made by Swisslog Healthcare can be highly useful for ransomware attacks aimed at hospitals, according to enterprise IoT security firm Armis.

Armis researchers discovered 8 types of vulnerabilities in the TransLogic pneumatic tube system (PTS) made by Swisslog Healthcare, which specializes in automation and transport solutions for hospitals and pharmacies.

PwnedPiperPneumatic tube systems enable hospitals to quickly and safely transport IVs, lab specimens, pharmaceuticals, documents, and other materials from one location to another. Swisslog says its TransLogic product is used in more than 3,000 hospitals around the world, and it’s present in over 80 percent of North American hospitals.

Researchers at Armis discovered that the TransLogic product, specifically its Nexus Control Panel, is affected by various types of vulnerabilities, including issues related to hardcoded credentials, privilege escalation, memory corruption, denial of service, and firmware upgrades.

An attacker who has access to the targeted organization’s network can exploit the vulnerabilities — some of them need to be chained for higher impact — to cause disruption or to take complete control of the Nexus Control Panel. In a theoretical attack scenario described by Armis, the attacker gains access to the network housing the PTS by initially targeting a vulnerable IP camera that is connected to the internet.

Exploitation of the security holes involves sending specially crafted packets to the targeted system, and does not require authentication or user interaction.

“By compromising a Nexus station, an attacker can leverage it for reconnaissance purposes, including harvesting data from the station such as RFID credentials of any employee that uses the PTS system, details about each station’s functions or location, as well as gain an understanding of the physical layout of the PTS network. From there, an attacker can take over all Nexus stations in the tube network, and hold them hostage in a sophisticated ransomware attack,” Armis explained.

While some ransomware operators claim they do not target hospitals, many high-impact incidents involving healthcare facilities have been reported over the past year around the world.

The flaws, tracked collectively by Armis as PwnedPiper, were reported to Swisslog on May 1. The vendor released a firmware update (v7.2.5.7) that patches seven of the eight types of issues — mitigations have been provided for the remaining vulnerability. Some older products are also impacted, but they are no longer supported so they will not get the fixes.

“The vulnerabilities are limited to the HMI-3 circuit board inside of NexusTM Panels when connected using an ethernet connection,” Swisslog said in a statement addressing PwnedPiper.

It added, “The potential for pneumatic tube stations (where the firmware is deployed) to be compromised is dependent on a bad actor who has access to the facility’s information technology network and who could cause additional damage by leveraging these exploits.”

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.