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Assessing and Exploiting Control Systems and IoT

Justin Searle, InGuardians
August 4-7


This is not your traditional SCADA/ICS/IIoT security course! How many courses send you home with a $500 kit including your own PLC and a set of hardware/RF hacking tools?!? This course teaches hands-on penetration testing techniques used to test individual components of a control system, including embedded electronic field devices, network protocols, RF communications, Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), and various forms of master servers and their ICS applications. Skills you will learn in this course will apply directly to systems such as the Smart Grid, PLCs, RTUs, smart meters, building management, manufacturing, Home Area Networks (HAN), smart appliances, SCADA, substation automation, synchrophasors, and even IoT. This course is structured around the formal penetration testing methodology created by UtiliSec for the United States Department of Energy. Using this methodology and Control Things Pentest Platform (previously SamuraiSTFU), an open source Linux distribution for pentesting energy sector systems and other critical infrastructure, we will perform hands-on penetration testing tasks on user interfaces (on master servers and field device maintenance interfaces), control system protocols (modbus, DNP3, IEC 60870-5-104), RF communications (433MHz, 869MHz, 915MHz), and embedded circuit attacks (memory dumping, bus snooping, JTAG, and firmware analysis). We will tie these techniques and exercises back to control system devices that can be tested using these techniques. The course exercises will be performed on a mixture of real world and simulated devices to give students the most realistic experience as possible in a portable classroom setting.

Advances in modern control systems such as the energy sector's Smart Grid has brought great benefits for asset owners/operators and customers alike, however these benefits have often come at a cost from a security perspective. With increased functionality and addition inter-system communication, modern control systems bring a greater risk of compromise that vendors, asset owners/operators, and society in general must accept to realize the desired benefits. To minimize this risk, penetration testing in conjunction with other security assessment types must be performed to minimize vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit critical infrastructures that exist in all countries around the world. Ultimately, this is the goal of this course, to help you know how, when, and where this can be done safely in your control systems.

Course Outline:

Day 1 Outline – Assessing and Exploiting Controllers
Understanding basic control system concepts, systems, and devices
  • Control system architectures
  • PLCs, RTUs, and IEDs
  • Understanding RTOS
  • Industrial and non-Industrial
  • What is IIoT and how it differs from IoT
  • Field devices, buses, and loops
  • DCS vs SCADA
Understanding controller logic
  • Velocio PLCs vs other PLCs
  • Hands-on exercise creating controller logic
  • Hands-on exercise programming a PLC
  • Hands-on exercise creating an HMI
Architecture Reviews of major ICS and smart grid systems
  • Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)
  • Distribution Grid Management (DGM) and Substation Automation (SA)
  • Wide Area Management, Protection, and Control (WAMPAC)
  • Demand Response (DR)
  • Distributed Energy Resources (DER)
  • Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
  • Electric Vehicles (EV)
Introduction to Control Things Platform
  • Setting up the virtual machine
  • Walk through the tools and functionality
  • Introduction to the student hardware kits
Introduction to the NESCOR methodology for penetration testing
  • Preparing for a penetration test
  • Architecture reviews
  • Testing the master servers
  • Testing the user interfaces
  • Testing the network communications
  • Testing the embedded field devices
  • End-to-end assessment
  • Reporting
Types of ICS user interfaces
  • Traditional applications
  • Web applications
  • Terminal interfaces
Pentesting maintenance interfaces on ICS field and floor devices
  • Functional analysis of field technician interfaces
  • Hands-on exercise capturing USB communications to tech interfaces
  • Hands-on exercise analyzing captured USB communications
  • Impersonating endpoints in field tech interface communications
  • Hands-on exercises impersonating vendor endpoints with Python
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities found during analysis

Day 2 Outline – Assessing and Exploiting ICS Communication Protocols
Performing traditional network pentests on control systems
  • Overview of a traditional network penetration test methodology
  • Dangers of port and vulnerability scanning
  • Strategies to perform port and vulnerability scanning
Pentesting Different Communication Layers
  • Testing of communication mediums vs communication protocols
  • Where security defenses should be place …… and tested
Serial communications
  • RS-232, TIA-422, and TIA-485
  • Fieldbus Protocols and Protocol Families
  • Hands-on sniffing and injection of serial Modbus RTU
Pentesting TCP/IP based ICS protocols
  • Protocol capture and analysis
  • ModbusTCP, ProfiNet, EnternetIP/CIP, DNP3, IEC 104, IEC 61850, ICCP
  • Dealing with unknown protocols
  • Hands-on entropy analysis of network payloads
  • Reverse engineering unknown protocols
  • Hands-on ICS protocol fuzzing

Day 3 Outline – Assessing and Exploiting ICS RF Communications
Pentesting RF communications between master servers and field devices
  • Examples of where RF is used in ICS and IIoT
  • Overview of the RF Pentesting methodology
Capturing RF Signals
  • Hardware used for different RF protocols
  • SDR vs rfcat
  • Comparison of different SDR hardware
  • Finding the right frequencies
  • Using the right antenna
  • Hands-on RF spectrum analysis
  • Hands-on RF signal capture
Analyzing the captured signal
  • Spread Spectrum types and strategies
  • Strategies for recovering frequency hopping
  • Modulation and Demodulation
  • Methods for identifying modulation type
  • Hands-on traffic demodulation with Universal Radio Hacker (URH)
  • Hands-on signal demodulation with GNU Radio
Data Extraction
  • Understanding how data streams are assembled
  • Hands-on analysis of data streams with URH
  • Hands-on packetization with URH
RF Transmission
  • Traffic transmission and exploitation
  • Hardware needed for transmission
  • Replaying attacks
  • Signal transmission with URH
  • Hands-on signal generation with rfcat and Great Scott Gadgets' Yardstick

Day 4 Outline – Assessing and Exploiting ICS Embedded Electronics
  • Overview of pentesting embedded device circuits
  • Local attack through physically exposed devices
  • Expanding physical attacks to remote attacks
  • Cryptographic keys and firmware
Analysis of embedded electronics in ICS field and floor devices
  • Discussion of device disassembly
  • Component analysis on embedded circuits
  • Datasheet acquisition and analysis for target components
Dumping data at rest on embedded circuits
  • Using the Bus Pirate and other similar tools
  • Overview of I2C or two-wire serial protocol
  • Hands-on exercise dumping I2C EEPROMs
Overview of SPI serial protocol
  • Hands-on exercise dumping SPI EEPROMs
  • Overview of JTAG
  • Hands-on exercise interfacing with debug interfaces
  • Bus Snooping on embedded circuits
Overview of bus snooping
  • Hands-on exercise snooping busses
  • Analyzing data obtained from data dumping and bus snooping
  • Hands-on exercise doing string analysis of datasets
  • Hands-on exercise doing entropy analysis of datasets
  • Hands-on exercise doing systematic key searches through datasets
  • Hands-on exercise doing file carving from datasets
Analyzing field and floor device firmware
  • Obtaining field and floor device firmware
  • Hands-on exercise disassembling firmware
  • Hands-on exercise analyzing disassembled firmware
  • Exploiting firmware flaws

Who Should Take this Course

Basic penetration testing experience is desirable, but not required. It is assumed that attendees will have no knowledge of ICS, Smart Grid, SCADA, or critical infrastructure. This course is designed for intermediate level security professionals, be they engineers, technicians, analysts, managers, or penetration testers.

Student Requirements

For those with little or no ICS experience, these Wikipedia articles provide a brief introduction to the concepts and history of control systems that will be helpful to know for class:
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICS
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCADA
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_control_system
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_grid
  • http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/nistpubs/800-82/SP800-82-final.pdf - NIST 800-82 is a great introduction to industrial control systems and the security issues surrounding them.
  • http://nostarch.com/xboxfree - While this has nothing to do with control systems, it provides a great introduction to the concepts and techniques taught in this class to pentest embedded electronic hardware in ICS field/floor devices.

What Students Should Bring

Each Attendee Must Bring a Laptop that Meets the Following Requirements:
  • 64-bit processor with 64-bit operating system
  • VT or other 64-bit virtualization settings enabled in your BIOS to run 64-bit VMs
  • At least eight (8) GB of RAM
  • At least fifty (50) GB of free hard drive space
  • Windows 7 (with .NET 4.0), 8.x, or 10.x installed on your host laptop or inside a VM
  • At least two USB ports (three ports preferred). If only two USB ports exist on the laptop and they are right next to each other (such as found on a Macbook Air), a USB extension cable must be brought as well
  • VMware Player 12+, VMware Workstation 12+, or VWware Fusion 8+ installed BEFORE class. Other virtualization software such as Parallels or VirtualBox may work if the attendee is familiar with its functionality, however it is not officially supported and VMware should be pre-installed as a backup just in case
  • Access to an account with administrative permissions and the ability to disable all security software on their laptop such as Antivirus and/or firewalls if needed for the class
  • If you are using Linux for your host machine, you will need ExFAT drivers installed for the USB drive

What Students Will Be Provided With

The following items are provided to each student to use in class and to keep after course completion:
  • Programmable Logic Controller (PLC)
  • Software to program the PLC to keep (non-expiring)
  • Software to program an HMI for the PLC (non-expiring)
  • Buspirate with probes and EEPROMS for exercises
  • RTL-SDR (Software Defined Radio)
  • Great Scott Gadgets Yardstick sub-GHz Radio
  • Saleae Logic4 Analyzer
  • Breadboard with SPI and I2C EEPROMs
  • MSP430 Launchpad for Firmware exercises
  • Latest version of the Control Things Pentest Platform on USB
  • Power for your laptop
  • Internet connectivity may or may not be available depending on the facility hosting the course
  • PDF version of the course slide deck


Justin Searle is the Director of ICS Security at InGuardians, specializing in ICS security architecture design and penetration testing. Justin led the Smart Grid Security Architecture group in the creation of NIST Interagency Report 7628 and has played key roles in the Advanced Security Acceleration Project for the Smart Grid (ASAP-SG), National Electric Sector Cybersecurity Organization Resources (NESCOR), and Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP). Justin has taught courses in hacking techniques, forensics, networking, and intrusion detection for multiple universities, corporations, and security conferences. Mr. Searle is currently a Senior Instructor for the SANS Institute. In addition to electric power industry conferences, Justin frequently presents at top international security conferences such as Black Hat, DEFCON, OWASP, Nullcon, and AusCERT. Justin co-leads prominent open source projects including the The Control Thing Platform, Samurai Web Testing Framework (SamuraiWTF), Samurai Security Testing Framework for Utilities (SamuraiSTFU), Yokoso!, and Laudanum. Justin has an MBA in International Technology and is a CISSP and SANS GIAC certified Incident Handler (GCIH), Intrusion Analyst (GCIA), Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT), and GIAC Industrial Control Security Professional (GICSP).