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PLC controls `make prisons vulnerable`

30 July, 2011

A group of American consultants is warning that the reliance of many prisons on PLCs and Scada systems to control doors, gates, alarms and video systems, could make them vulnerable to computer-based attacks. In a new White Paper, they say they have discovered “significant vulnerabilities” in the PLCs used in correctional facilities that would allow cell doors and gates to be operated remotely.

PLCs are widely used in US prison to reduce wiring and to allow the facilities to be supervised by fewer staff located in central control rooms. In some prisons, they are used to cascade door-opening sequences to avoid inrushes of current.

The consultants say that many of the systems were designed before the risks of malware such as Stuxnet were known. They have conducted experiments in which, they say, they discovered non-vendor-specific “attack vectors” which would allow devices connected to the PLC to be manipulated and alarms to be suppressed.

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