Rants of a deranged squirrel.

2013 Superdome Outage a Hack? The Value of Post-Incident Investigations.

[This was originally published on the OSVDB blog.]

As we approach the pinnacle of U.S. sportsball, I am reminded of the complete scandal from a past Superbowl. No, not the obviously-setup wardrobe malfunction scandal. No, not the one where we might have been subjected to a pre-recorded half-time show. The one in 2013 where hackers terrorism who-knows-why caused the stadium lights to go out for 34 minutes. That day, and the days after, everyone sure seemed to ‘know’ what happened. Since many were throwing around claims of ‘hacking’ or ‘cyber terrorism’ at the time, this incident caught my attention.

Here’s what we know, with selected highlights:

The reason for this blog is that Chris Sistrunk, a noted SCADA security researcher, pinged me the other day about the report. We were curious if the failure described could be considered a vulnerability by OSVDB standards. After reading the report and several questions for him, this seems like a simple case of device malfunction / failure. Quoting relevant bits from the report:

During the testing, behavior of the relay was not entirely consistent with the function described in the instruction manual. Under some circumstances, when the current exceeded the trip
setting and then decreased below the trip setting even after the timer had expired, the relay did not operate.

This instability was observed on all of the relays tested (during testing by this engineer, ENOI, and others in coordination with S&C at Vault 24 on March 1, 2013), including the subject
(Bay 8) relay and two identical (exemplar) relays. Behavior of the device in a manner contrary to the published functionality of the device constitutes a design defect.

Interesting read and glimpse into the world of SCADA / ICS. While the notion that the outage was due to hackers, the reality is far more mundane. We could certainly learn from this case, along with thousands of others… but who am I kidding. News covering the mundane and real doesn’t sell.

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