Uncovering Security Weak Spots in Industry 4.0 CNC Machines

The Security Risks Faced by CNC Machines in Industry 4.0 Download The Security Risks Faced by CNC Machines in Industry 4.0

Uncovering Security Weak Spots in Industry 4.0 CNC Machines
By Marco Balduzzi (Trend Micro Research);
Francesco Sortino, Fabio Castello, Leandro Pierguidi (Celada)
The technological leaps of the Fourth Industrial Revolution may have made production machinery more efficient, but these have also put manufacturers in the crosshairs of cybercriminals. Our research tackles the risks that computer numerical control (CNC) machines now face as they’re integrated into today’s networked factories.

Can CNC Machines Hold Fast Against Cyberattacks?

In this introductory video, we provide an overview of the crucial role that CNC machines play in production lines and the various attacks that could befall them. Cybercriminals could abuse a CNC machine’s security shortcomings to inflict damage on them, subject them to denial of service, hijack them, or steal the data that they contain.

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How Cyberattacks Could Damage CNC Machines

Malicious actors seeking to disrupt or slow down production lines could carry out an assortment of attacks that could lead to the breakage of a CNC machine or the product that the machine is working on. In this video, we show how cybercriminals could damage such a complex and expensive piece of industrial equipment.

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How Denial-of-Service Attacks Could Impair CNC Machines

There are several forms of denial-of-service (DoS) attacks that malicious actors could orchestrate against CNC machines to sabotage the manufacturing process and bog down efficiency. In this video, we demonstrate how ransomware could facilitate a DoS attack on a CNC machine.

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How Attackers Could Hijack CNC Machines

In this video, we show how attackers could covertly seize control of a CNC machine. By hijacking a CNC machine, malicious actors could instruct it to operate according to their own specifications, work the machine to the point of breakage, or introduce defects in products.

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How Safe Is the Data in CNC Machines?

CNC machines contain a wealth of intellectual property that makes them a prime target of data theft, such as their production details and program code. In this video, we explore how malicious actors could pilfer a manufacturer’s confidential information from a CNC machine.

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The push toward Industry 4.0 has introduced interconnectivity to industrial equipment such as computer numerical control (CNC) machines, a staple of factory floors that enables manufacturing companies to mass-produce complex products with great precision and speed. But in doing so, it has also exposed these machines to new potential threats. These threats span a range of attack scenarios, including:

  • Attacks that could cause damage

    Malicious actors could tamper with a CNC machine’s internal configuration state or parameters to influence the machine’s behavior in such a manner as to damage the machine, its parts, or the piece under production.

  • Denial-of-service attacks

    Cybercriminals looking to sabotage a production site could carry out attacks meant to impede its operations by altering a CNC machine’s functionalities, such as its tool management system, or by triggering alarms.

  • Hijacking

    Attackers could alter the tool compensation parameters of a CNC machine or manipulate the logic of parametric programs to introduce microdefects, creating defective parts or components of interest for the attackers.

  • Data theft

    Attackers could misuse loose network protocols and functionalities to exfiltrate confidential program code or sensitive production information.

In our five-part video series, titled “Industry 4.0 at Risk,” we take an in-depth look at the security hazards to CNC machines that come with the adoption of the transformative technologies that have been ushered in by Industry 4.0.

Our research paper “The Security Risks Faced by CNC Machines in Industry 4.0” provides an extensive technical analysis of the emerging threats from which manufacturers might have to protect their CNC machines. In response to the findings of our research, the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released advisories to raise awareness of these cyber risks in Haas and Heidenhain CNC controllers.

To shield their CNC machines from attacks, manufacturing companies should take cybersecurity measures such as:

  • Using context-aware industrial intrusion prevention and detection systems (IPS/IDSs)

    These systems can help manufacturers monitor traffic in real time in relation to their CNC machines’ industrial protocols, so that they can better distinguish legitimate work requests from potentially malicious activity.

  • Network segmentation

    Architecting their networks properly, along with standard security technologies like virtual local area networks (VLANs) and firewalls, is essential if manufacturers are to limit the exposed interfaces that could be abused by cybercriminals.

  • Proper patch management

    Manufacturers should keep their CNC machines, modern models of which now come with operating systems and use complex software, up to date with patches to deter malicious actors from exploiting critical vulnerabilities.


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