Trend Micro has uncovered a number of major flaws in operational technology (OT), which could create an inroad for hacking of industrial systems.
The security company said that it has uncovered design flaws and vulnerable implementations related to two popular machine-to-machine (M2M) protocols, Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) and Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP).
Researchers were able to identify more than 200 million MQTT messages and more than 19 million CoAP messages being leaked by exposed systems, which could be easily detected by hackers and used to identify lucrative information on assets, personnel and technology.
"The issues we've uncovered in two of the most pervasive messaging protocols used by IoT devices today should be cause for organisations to take a serious, holistic look at the security of their OT environments," said Greg Young, vice president of cybersecurity for Trend Micro. "These protocols weren't designed with security in mind, but are found in an increasingly wide range of mission critical environments and use cases. This represents a major cybersecurity risk. Hackers with even modest resources could exploit these design flaws and vulnerabilities to conduct reconnaissance, lateral movement, covert data theft and denial-of-service attacks."
Details of the vulnerabilities are contained in Trend Micro's new report, co-branded with Politecnico di Milano, The Fragility of Industrial IoT's Data Backbone, which highlights the growing threat of industrial espionage, denial-of-service and targeted attacks by abusing these protocols.
The research shows how attackers could remotely control IoT endpoints or deny service by leveraging security issues in the design, implementation and deployment of devices using these protocols. Furthermore, by abusing specific functionality in the protocols, hackers could maintain persistent access to a target to move laterally across a network.
Trend has already identified a number of zero-day vulnerabilities that have been discovered by the research. The company is also advising organisations to implement proper policies to remove unnecessary M2M services; run periodic checks using internet-wide scanning services to ensure sensitive data is not leaking through public IoT services; implement a vulnerability management workflow or other means to secure the supply chain; and to stay up to date with industry standards.