Feeds

'Data storm' blamed for nuclear plant shutdown

Malfunctioning control device causes fatal spike in traffic

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

No digital contagion has been fingered in the latest incident, said Terry Johnson, spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the public power company that runs the Browns Ferry power plant.

"The integrated control system (ICS) network is not connected to the network outside the plant, but it is connected to a very large number of controllers and devices in the plant," Johnson said. "You can end up with a lot of information, and it appears to be more than it could handle."

The device responsible for flooding the network with data appears to be a programmable logic controller (PLC) connected to the plant's Ethernet network, according to an NRC information notice on the incident (PDF). The PLC controlled Unit 3's condensate demineralizer - essentially a water softener for nuclear plants. The flood of data spewed out by the malfunctioning controller caused the variable frequency drive (VFD) controllers for the recirculation pumps to hang.

Such failures are common among PLC and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, because the manufacturers do not test the devices' handling of bad data, said Dale Peterson, CEO of industrial system security firm DigitalBond.

"What is happening in this marketplace is that vendors will build their own (network) stacks to make it cheaper," Peterson said. "And it works, but when (the device) gets anything that it didn't expect, it will gag."

In many cases, a simple vulnerability scan will even cause the devices to crash, Peterson said. During tests in an electrical substation, Nessus running in safe scan mode crashed devices, he said. In some cases, sending out broadcast data on the network will crash several of connected devices, he added.

"If you were to test any control systems that have any more than three or four different network-connected devices, they could be knocked over very easily," Peterson said.

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant has had its share of difficulties. All three units of the plant were shutdown in 1985 due to performance and management problems, according to the NRC. Unit 2 was restarted in 1991, and Unit 3 started operating again in 1995. On Tuesday, the NRC gave the Tennessee Valley Authority permission to restart Unit 1.

The Committee on Homeland Security gave the NRC until 14 June to respond to its letter.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2007, SecurityFocus

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
Kill off SSL 3.0 NOW: HTTPS savaged by vicious POODLE
Pull it out ASAP, it is SWISS CHEESE
Facebook slurps 'paste sites' for STOLEN passwords, sprinkles on hash and salt
Zuck's ad empire DOESN'T see details in plain text. Phew!
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, watchdog claims
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.