GameOn! Abusing SCADA HMI Project Files


Back in July 2016, AttackIQ announced that they were hosting a GameOn! Competition for their FireDrill platform. FireDrill aims to aid companies in improving their network security posture by performing continuous real-world network attack simulations, they call scenarios, on a company’s network to test whether it is susceptible to particular vulnerabilities and network mis-configurations. Scenarios can be selected, deployed, and controlled from an administration console from the AttackIQ cloud. Once a scenario is chosen, AttackIQ servers communicate and instrument a software agent that has been deployed on the host. This agent performs local/remote attacks on the company’s network, such as testing for pass the hash or outbound firewall rules, like TOR traffic. Note that these tests are harmless and only check for vulnerabilities without actually exploiting them. If a security mechanism, such as a firewall, properly blocks an attack, then the scenario will fail at the last phase it was running. Finally, it logs the results back to the cloud, which can be viewed by the user.

The competition required each team’s submission to be in the form of a custom attack scenario. We took this as an opportunity to spend some time searching for vulnerabilities in common supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) human machine interfaces (HMIs) and create custom FireDrill scenarios for them.

This lead us to investigate Ecava IntegraXor and Sielco Sistemi Winlog Lite, popular SCADA HMIs that run on Windows platforms. We discovered that it was possible to gain code execution by crafting a project file that abuses the internal scripting engines in both HMIs. IntegraXor uses a Javascript engine and Winlog Lite uses a custom runtime scripting engine, which executes WLL files. This technique could be compared to malicious macros in Microsoft-related project files. Our reasoning was that many users and defensive technologies are conscious of potentially malicious Windows executables, PDFs, Adobe Flash files, JARs, etc. However, it was less likely that they are aware of dangerous SCADA HMI files. We created two five-phase scenarios named IGX-Poison and WLL-Poison. Other than phase 1, both scenarios are identical in behavior.

Phase 1 - Code Execution

The deployed agent for this scenario starts by running a malicious (poisoned) project file, on a victim host. This can be thought of as a user or system administrator running an IntegraXor or Winlog Lite project file that they had received over email or some other means. The poisoned file contains SCADA simulation files and malicious scripting code. The malicious scripting code spawns a set of CMD commands and outputs a malicious base64 encoded Windows batch file. The batch file is then decoded using certutil (a default Windows program). The result is a FTP-base reverse shell that is then executed. Because these HMIs run as an administrative user, the malicious program also gets full administrative privileges.

In IGX-Poison, the project code abuses a design flaw in IntegraXor’s HMI ActiveX engine that allows us to execute CMD commands on the host, which we use to decrypt an included malicious batch file and run it. We encrypt the batch file as a means to circumvent and test the network’s antivirus, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS).  

Malicious Javascript embedded within the poisoned IntegraXor project

Incredible enough, the process is nearly identical in WLL-Poison. However, the malicious code is written in WinLog Lite’s custom programming language and abuses its ShellExec function.

Malicious WLL code embedded within the poisoned Winlog Lite project

Phase 2 - Persistence

This is a setup phase that checks if access controls are in place to prevent an attacker from creating files and directories for storing harvested data. If proper access controls are in place, the scenario will fail at this step.

Phase 3 - Reverse Shell

This phase attempts to create a persistent reverse shell by using the Windows built-in FTP client. We chose this route to circumvent antivirus, reduce the dependencies on post-exploitation toolkits, and rely purely on vanilla Windows services. It works by running a script that continuously downloads a text file from an attacker’s remote FTP server and execute its contents.

Reverse shell batch file

Phase 4 - Harvesting

Assuming that an attacker now has remote shell access, the harvesting stage simulates an attacker searching for sensitive data on a host. It is performed by scanning local disks for SCADA HMI projects and extracting database connections strings from the files. Sensitive information can be harvested from these project files and additional data can be gathered for future data exfiltration.

Phase 5 - Exfiltration

The exfiltration phase attempts to send harvested data back to the attacker covertly. This phase encrypts and compresses harvested data into a ZIP file. The ZIP file is then split into 10-Byte chunks and sent over the network to the attacker over HTTP. If at any point a firewall blocks data transfer back to an attacker, this scenario phase will fail.


When using IntegraXor or Winlog Lite on a production network, it’s possible to implement security measures to prevent exploitation of the vulnerability we highlight in this scenario. The most effective would be limiting the network’s internet access. Doing so would drastically decrease the capability of an attacker to communicate with a compromised host. Application whitelisting, blocking all ingress and egress traffic/ports at the firewall, employing network IDS/IPS, disabling cmd.exe and batch file execution, and email filters to block or flag project files are additional system and network security considerations. In the end, it's important that users and companies understand the risks that SCADA project files pose and how they could be leveraged to exploit and exfiltrate data from a network. 

Posted on May 2, 2018 .