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Researchers warn of new flaw that lets hackers blow up factories

A flaw was found in popular software that’s used to manage processes in industries from manufacturing to energy. 

The bad news: Researchers at Tenable, a security firm, found a serious bug in code from Schneider Electric, which has issued a fix after being given a heads-up about the problem. The flaw leaves the software vulnerable to a “buffer overflow attack.” Computer programs allocate set amounts of memory—or buffers—to hold data they’re working on. The attack pumps more data into a buffer than it’s designed to hold; the overflow corrupts memory nearby, letting hackers introduce malicious code there that can take control of servers and other systems.

The (slightly) better news: The attack worked with software running on Windows 7; more modern operating systems have built-in protections that make it much harder. That’s no reason to be complacent, though, because many industrial control systems with older OSes are still being hooked up to the internet. 

Why this matters: Code governing control systems at industrial sites has already been the target of attacks, and US officials recently warned Russian hackers are probing for security holes in software controlling critical infrastructure like nuclear facilities and dams.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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