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Cisco bugs surrender control of building's critical systems

Security, HVAC, power systems ripe for plucking

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Cisco Systems has warned of serious vulnerabilities in a device that connects a building's ventilation, lighting, security, and energy supply systems so they can be controlled by IT workers remotely.

The networking giant on Wednesday urged users of the Cisco Network Building Mediator products to patch the vulnerabilities, which among other things allow adversaries to obtain administrative passwords. No authentication is required to read the system configuration files, making it possible for outsiders to take control of a building's most critical control systems.

"Successful exploitation of any of these vulnerabilities could result in a malicious user taking complete control over an affected device," a Cisco advisory stated. The notice also warned that the vulnerabilities are present in the legacy products from Richards-Zeta, the Cisco-acquired company that originally designed the system. The bugs were discovered during internal testing.

Another flaw makes it possible for low-level employees to gain full control of the device by accessing default administrative accounts. Other bugs allowed malicious insiders to intercept traffic as it travels between an administrator and the Building Mediator and to escalate limited privileges.

The device - which gathers a wealth of data in different formats and presents it in a single, easy-to-read panel - is part of Cisco's push to help customers use IT to automate and remotely control tasks that used to require manual procedures. That can save building operators plenty of money, but it also presents new threats, especially since the product is designed to seamlessly interact with larger power grids.

The advisory offers several workarounds and common-sense configuration settings, but it warns customers to proceed with care, since certain access ports and protocols are needed to ensure that the system runs correctly. ®

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