Google left heating, cooling system open to hackers

07.05.2013, von Jeremy Kirk

Hackers could have turned up the heat in one of Google's offices in Sydney. Literally.

Computer security researchers with Cylance found that Google's Australia branch was using an unpatched version of Niagara, a software system used for managing control systems in buildings.

Billy Rios, technical director and director of consulting for Cylance, wrote the finding is part of research the company is doing into industrial control systems, which involved scanning the Internet for vulnerable devices.

Google's building at Wharf 7 -- a scenic spot on Sydney's harbor -- used a "slightly outdated" version of the Niagara framework, which is developed by Tridium, a company owned by Honeywell. Cylance wrote a custom exploit to extract a configuration file from Niagara, which contained the user names and passwords for authorized users.

Although the passwords were encrypted, Cylance used custom tools to decrypt the passwords, opening up the software for takeover.

Cylance didn't do anything malicious and notified Google of the problems, and the company "quickly pulled offline" the system, Rios wrote. But the company's researchers did take a peek at the system, which allowed them to see a third-floor map of the office revealing its water and HVAC systems.