Smart Irrigation System Botnets Threaten Public Water Supply

smart irrigation system

Smart irrigation system vulnerabilities could pose risks to the public water supply, warned researchers from Israel-based Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The researchers found that attackers could employ a botnet of smart irrigation systems used by city and local governments to remotely turn watering systems on and off at will. This would enable attackers to empty public water supplies held in towers and reservoirs.

The researchers demonstrated how a bot running on a compromised device can detect a smart irrigation system connected to its local area network in less than 15 minutes. The bot can turn on watering of each smart irrigation system using a set of session hijacking and replay attacks.

“By simultaneously applying a distributed attack that exploits such vulnerabilities, a botnet of 1,355 smart irrigation systems can empty an urban water tower in an hour and a botnet of 23,866 smart irrigation systems can empty flood water reservoir overnight,” said Ben Nassi, one of the researchers who conducted the study.

The researchers examined three popular smart irrigation systems: GreenIQ, BlueSpray, and RainMachine. “We have notified the companies to alert them of the security gaps so they can upgrade their smart system’s irrigation system’s firmware,” said Nassi.

“Although the current generation of IoT devices is being used to regulate water and electricity obtained from critical infrastructures, such as the smart-grid and urban water services, they contain serious security vulnerabilities and will soon become primary targets for attackers,” he added.

Countermeasures to Stop Attacks

For countermeasures, organizations running these smart irrigation systems should consider monitoring unusual water consumption in urban water services. Once unusual activities is detected, the organizations can stop the water distribution. Unfortunately, this also prevents people from getting water, which is not a long term solution.

The organization can upgrade from HTTP to HTTPS in their communications. This would prevent attackers from spoofing TCP packets.

Also, organizations can disable SSH because it is not needed to communicate with a smart irrigation system when a cloud serves as a mediator. This will prevent attackers from executing a code on a smart irrigation system by detecting weak passwords, the researchers concluded.

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