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Wind turbine farm hack exposed as hoax

Tilting at windmills

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Updated Claims of a supposed hack against the computers controlling wind turbines run by NextEra Energy Resources, a subsidiary of Florida Power & Light, are increasingly looking like a hoax.

"Bgr R" posted the information to a full disclosure mailing list over the weekend in what the poster said was an act of revenge after Florida Power gave him the sack. In an email interview with Computerworld, Bgr R said that he had used a vulnerability in the firm's installation of Cisco security management software to hack into SCADA systems used to control turbines. He claimed that he carried out the supposed attack in order to embarrass the firm.

Even at this early point of reporting the story Computerworld was careful to include caveats, for example noting that Bgr R had got FPL's name wrong at on point of the exchange, a mistake an ex-worker would be unlikely to make. This caution turns out to be well founded.

NextEra Energy Resources said it found no evidence of any breach of its systems. In addition, some of the supposed evidence posted by Bgr R came from other sources.

We have investigated the claim of a potential computer hacking and found that the information provided as proof of "hacking" is largely publicly available information, which by itself would not be adequate to launch a successful attack against the named SCADA system or wind site. We have not seen any evidence of a breach, and we are continuing our monitoring and detection to protect against possible attacks.

Reports of the supposed hack made quite a splash over the weekend. Although the material posted by Bgr R initially looked plausible closer inspection revealed that buttons were in German, wind speed were quoted in km/hr not mph, and the control system depicted was for a much small facility than the 200MW/136 turbine farm ran by NextEra Energy Resources. In addition, the circuit diagram was all wrong, as explained in a compressive debunking of the whole business by Spanish reverse engineer and expert on SCADA control systems Ruben Santamarta here.

The screenshots are designed to suggest Bgr R had access to management systems controlling the 136-turbine Fort Sumner wind farm, New Mexico. If the hack was legitimate (which increasingly looks highly unlikely), the access might be enough to shut down the facility or (at worst) set up operational parameters that were likely to lead to equipment failure. Wind turbines are shut down for any number of reasons anyway, ironically including situations where it get too windy for them to operate safely. @reg;

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