Security Experts:

Use of SCPI Protocol Exposes Measurement Instruments to Attacks

Measurement instruments that support the Standard Commands for Programmable Instruments (SCPI) protocol are exposed to hacker attacks, cybersecurity firm Trend Micro warned on Tuesday.

First released in 1990, SCPI is an ASCII-based standard designed for test and measurement devices. SCPI is still widely supported as it’s easy to use and it includes commands for changing nearly any setting on an instrument.

However, SCPI includes no authentication mechanism and now that measurement devices are increasingly connected to networks and even directly to the internet, the use of the protocol can pose serious security risks.

Trend Micro has conducted an analysis of SCPI and found tens of devices that use it, including expensive instruments, being exposed to the internet. The list includes data acquisition systems, waveform generators, multimeters, signal analyzers, and oscilloscopes.

The company conducted tests on a digital multimeter from Keysight Technologies, an important supplier of test and measurement devices, but noted that products from other vendors are likely exposed to the same types of attacks if they use SCPI.

Trend Micro researchers found that the multimeter’s web and other interfaces were easily accessible and were not protected by a password by default. This allows an attacker to gain access to the configuration panel and set their own password to lock the legitimate owner out until they perform a hard reset.

They also managed to cause the device to display arbitrary text and pointed out that an attacker could cause physical damage by issuing specific commands tens of thousands of times.Hacked multimeter

“The non-volatile memory can be written for a limited number of times, but excessive write could result in physical corruption, where a broken instrument can be only fixed by replacing the part,” the researchers explained.

Trend Micro’s experts have also described attack scenarios targeting power supply units. Attackers could trigger a DoS condition, manipulate readings, and cause physical damage to the device.

“Although we have taken the Keysight digital multimeter as an example [...], the SCPI protocol is, in fact, supported by major instrument vendors,” Trend Micro researchers said. “It’s possible that the impact may not only be limited in laboratories with expensive DUTs, but also semiconductor automated test equipment (ATE)”

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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.