Friday, July 20, 2012

Smart Grid Researcher Releases Open Source Meter-Hacking Tool

'Termineter' unleashed prior to presentations on smart meter security next week at BSides, Black Hat USA

A smart grid researcher today released a free open-source hacking tool to test the security of smart meters. But this is a different researcher than the one who pulled his talk and public release of a similar tool earlier this year amid concerns by a smart grid vendor.

Spencer McIntyre, a member of SecureState's Research & Innovation Team, says his company basically lucked out and wasn't pressured by vendors worried about the release today of his so-called Termineter tool, which he will demonstrate next week at the BSides conference in Las Vegas. "We got really lucky, I guess. We worked with power and utility vendors," he says. "The [utility] client we worked with has been working with us to release this tool."

InGuardians initially wasn't so lucky. Researcher Don Weber was supposed to release his firm's tool earlier this year at the ShmooCon conference, but had to put the talk and tool on hold after a vendor came forward with concerns. The company ended up providing the tool to smart grid vendors and utilities -- just not publicly, says Jimmy Alderson, chief operating officer of InGuardians.

"We did not feel it was right to make our tool publicly available," Alderson says. "It's modified open source, so you can add to it, but at the same time it's not widely open to an attacker."

Don Weber, a senior security analyst with InGuardians, is scheduled to demonstrate the tool at Black Hat USA in Las Vegas next week. The tool, like Termineter, tests for both vulnerabilities and functionality in smart grid meters via the devices' infrared ports. The so-called OptiGuard is a Python-based tool that demonstrates the way infrared ports on a smart meter can be penetrated, looking for vulnerabilities and executing attacks. InGuardians looks for vulnerabilities in these devices, including weak passwords that could lead to meter fraud and taking control of a meter.

How does OptiGuard differ from SecureState's Termineter? SecureState uses more of a Metasploit Framework user interface, notes Alderson, whereas InGuardians' has its own user interface. Plus Termineter is open source, and OptiGuard is not.

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