INSIGHTS | October 30, 2012

3S Software’s CoDeSys: Insecure by Design

My last project before joining IOActive was “breaking” 3S Software’s CoDeSys PLC runtime for Digital Bond.

Before the assignment, I had a fellow security nut give me some tips on this project to get me off the ground, but unfortunately this person cannot be named. You know who you are, so thank you, mystery person.

The PLC runtime is pretty cool, from a hacker perspective. CoDeSys is an unusual ladder logic runtime for a number of reasons.


Different vendors have different strategies for executing ladder logic. Some run ladder logic on custom ASICs (or possibly interpreter/emulators) on their PLC processor, while others execute ladder logic as native code. For an introduction to reverse-engineering the interpreted code and ASIC code, check out FX’s talk on Decoding Stuxnet at C3. It really is amazing, and FX has a level of patience in disassembling code for an unknown CPU that I think is completely unique.


CoDeSys is interesting to me because it doesn’t work like the Siemens ladder logic. CoDeSys compiles your ladder logic as byte code for the processor on which the ladder logic is running. On our Wago system, it was an x86 processor, and the ladder logic was compiled x86 code. A CoDeSys ladder logic file is literally loaded into memory, and then execution of the runtime jumps into the ladder logic file. This is great because we can easily disassemble a ladder logic file, or better, build our own file that executes system calls.


I talked about this oddity at AppSec DC in April 2012. All CoDeSys installations seem to fall into three categories: the runtime is executing on top of an embedded OS, which lacks code privilege separation; the runtime is executing on Linux with a uid of 0; or the runtime is executing on top of Windows CE in single user mode. All three are bad for the same reasons.


All three mean of course that an unauthenticated user can upload an executable file to the PLC, and it will be executed with no protection. On Windows and Linux hosts, it is worse because the APIs to commit Evil are well understood.


 I had said back in April that CoDeSys is in an amazing and unique position to help secure our critical infrastructure. Their product is used in thousands of product lines made by hundreds of vendors. Their implementation of secure ladder logic transfer and an encrypted and digitally signed control protocol would secure a huge chunk of critical infrastructure in one pass.


3S has published an advisory on setting passwords for CoDeSys as the solution to the ladder logic upload problem. Unfortunately, the password is useless unless the vendors (the PLC manufacturers who run CoDeSys on their PLC) make extensive modification to the runtime source code.


Setting a password on CoDeSys protects code segments. In theory, this can prevent a user from uploading a new ladder logic program without knowing the password. Unfortunately, the shell protocol used by 3S has a command called delpwd, which deletes the password and does not require authentication. Further, even if that little problem was fixed, we still get arbitrary file upload and download with the privileges of the process (remember the note about administrator/root?). So as a bad guy, I could just upload a new binary, upload a new copy of the crontab file, and wait patiently for the process to execute.


The solution that I would like to see in future CoDeSys releases would include a requirement for authentication prior to file upload, a patch for the directory traversal vulnerability, and added cryptographic security to the protocol to prevent man-in-the-middle and replay attacks.