Google left heating, cooling system open to hackers

Researchers with Cylance found a Google office in Sydney used an unpatched building control system

Hackers could have turned up the heat in one of Google's offices in Sydney. Literally.

Computer security researchers with Cylance found that Google's Australia branch was using an unpatched version of Niagara, a software system used for managing control systems in buildings.

Billy Rios, technical director and director of consulting for Cylance, wrote the finding is part of research the company is doing into industrial control systems, which involved scanning the Internet for vulnerable devices.

Google's building at Wharf 7 -- a scenic spot on Sydney's harbor -- used a "slightly outdated" version of the Niagara framework, which is developed by Tridium, a company owned by Honeywell. Cylance wrote a custom exploit to extract a configuration file from Niagara, which contained the user names and passwords for authorized users.

Although the passwords were encrypted, Cylance used custom tools to decrypt the passwords, opening up the software for takeover.

Cylance didn't do anything malicious and notified Google of the problems, and the company "quickly pulled offline" the system, Rios wrote. But the company's researchers did take a peek at the system, which allowed them to see a third-floor map of the office revealing its water and HVAC systems.

A Google spokeswoman said on Tuesday that "we're grateful when researchers report their findings to us. We took appropriate action to resolve this issue."

It would have been possible for the researchers to "root" the control system, or maintain persistent, complete access to it. Google said the access the researchers had would have only allowed them to manipulate the building's heating and cooling.

Industrial control systems, which are widely used in a variety of settings such as factories and utilities, have been found to contain dangerous vulnerabilities that would allow hackers to remotely control sensitive systems.

The U.S. government runs its own organization, the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, that is dedicated to studying security issues with the aim of securing critical national infrastructure.

Rios wrote on his blog last November that the Niagara industrial control system is one of the most widely used ones in the world. He found other vulnerabilities in the software, which he reported.

After an initial slow response, Rios wrote that Tridium and Honeywell eventually gave him special access to review their patches, which fixed a directory transversal issue, a weak session problem and an issue involving the insecure storage of users' credentials.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags CylanceGooglesecurity

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?