Dearest engineers and hackers, and also their management,
Recent vulnerabilities found in smart meters and HAN devices have shown a number of weaknesses in the engineering practices used to build these devices and their constituent components. A vulnerability in a chip or library is fixed slowly, and it is a very rare event that the meter and thermostat vendors affected by the vulnerability are notified by their suppliers. Because of this, vulnerabilities are spreading downward through the supply chain, and the engineers of smart grid devices are left uninformed.
While those utilities that actively investigate security have a considerable amount of bargaining power with their immediate suppliers, the rest of the supply chain has no similar leverage to compel security notifications. Chip and library vendors are failing to notify the meter vendors that depend upon their components. Even when the meter vendors are notified directly of vulnerabilities, thermostat and other HAN vendors can have no realistic expectation of such a privilege.
Despite having found many vulnerabilities in microcontrollers and LPAN radio chips, I have never seen one single security issue mentioned in the errata sheets of these devices. It has been a year since I first reported to Texas Instruments that the RAM of their Chipcon 8051 core is exposed to an attacker, but there's not one scrap of documentation from the firm to its customers suggesting that they make the simple patch of moving the key variables to Flash memory. The example ZigBee stack for the chip is still vulnerable to this attack, even after recent patches! A year later, exactly two debugger commands are all that are required to extract keys from nearly every ZigBee SEP device with a Chipcon radio, and no one knows to patch their code! (Do not be smug if you are an Ember customer. The EM2xx chips are unpatchably vulnerable to debugger key extraction, and there is no mention of this in the chip's errata sheet either.)
As chip and library vendors have failed to document the publicly known vulnerabilities in their products, and as they have often been unable or unwilling to repair them, the most expedient remedy to this problem is a separate line of communication. At least one point of reference must exist for the engineers trying to build these products.
For these reasons, I have created a skunkworks mailing list for the announcement and discussion of smart grid vulnerabilities, particularly but not exclusively those in AMI equipment. This is to be a list for engineering discussion, by engineers and security researchers. Anonymous posts and lurking are welcome, but politics and committee items are not.
For this reason, I especially request that those firms which care about security ask--or perhaps even require--their engineering staff to subscribe. This list is the appropriate place to post questions concerning the secure use of a particular radio chip, fragment of code, or anything else which is too low level or vendor-specific to be mentioned in standards.
If your firm is unwilling to allow its engineers to post, please at least compel them to follow the posts of others. In saying nothing, they will still learn how to make more secure products along with all sorts of fascinating gossip about your competitors. Your firm has every right to keep its mouth shut, but keeping its ears shut is a betrayal of each and every one of your customers.
To kickstart this mailing list, I will make it my first site of public disclosure for smart grid vulnerabilities over the coming months. The subscription link is below, and I invite you to join me in preventing smart grid vulnerabilities before they are created.
Thank you kindly,
Belt Buckle Engineer