The Two Critical Configuration Issues we Discovered in Siemens ICS

The Two Critical Configuration Issues we Discovered in Siemens ICS

17 Sep 2020

Improper configuration grants privileged access and remote code execution to every user in the network; if exploited, it can allow hackers to gain control of the industrial process

TEL AVIV, September 17, 2020 - OTORIO, the leading provider of next-generation OT security and digital risk management solutions, recently discovered two critical issues in the way Siemens’ PCS 7 Distributed Control Systems (DCS) are configured.

The PCS 7 is one of the most common DCS solutions, and like other DCSs, it contains several components, including the process control, human-machine interface (HMI). OTORIO researchers discovered two commonly used configurations in PCS 7 installation process that - if not tended to - can grant privileged access as well as remote code execution on the PCS 7 server to every user.

DCSs run critical industrial operations around the world. Limiting user access to these systems is crucial for proper network security. Granting overarching user access during installation can enable attackers to breach industrial networks that rely on Siemens and its product line. 

There are two vulnerabilities to be addressed - one in WinCC and another in PCS. Both involve commonly made mistakes that are worth delving into:

WinCC Vulnerability and Mitigation

WinCC is a PCS 7 component. When an engineer downloads a WinCC project from the engineering station to the OS stations, s/he specifies a network drive - a shared folder - on the OS station. The project is then saved on that shared folder. It is safe to believe that without clear instructions, a user installing PCS 7 may set access to the shared folder as set to "Everyone" with "Full Control".

If improperly configured, any user with remote access to this folder can manipulate the project files to achieve arbitrary code execution. Fixing the issue involves limiting user permissions. When installing Simatic WinCC, on the Project Properties section, grant permission only for the user used in the Engineering Station for configuring the project - and not "Everyone". This security issue doesn't require advanced technical skills to exploit, making it more accessible to attackers than traditional CVEs.

PCS Vulnerability and Mitigation     

The default PCS 7 setup process creates three default user groups. One of these user groups, the Simatic HMI, has access to execute runtime executables. By default, the user in the installation is added to the Simatic HMI group even if s/he isn't a member of the administration group.

This default process creates a security vulnerability. A user running WinCC should not be an administrator as this allows the user to potentially harm this and other systems. To mitigate the above flaw, create a non-admin user for running the WinCC runtime program and add that user to the SIMATIC HMI group.

OTORIO Head of Research, Matan Dobrushin: "We immediately notified Siemens of the two issues and recommend that every Siemens administrator and operator ensure that they did not unintentionally enable the two flaws that my team discovered during any PCS 7 installation. Siemens responded immediately and communicated to me that they are taking this report very seriously."

Siemens' Statement:

Siemens strongly encourage customers to apply the principle of least privileges during the installation and configuration of the Control Systems and especially to not use any administrative accounts during operation. Both Siemens and OTORIO provide customers with adequate security tools and recommendations such as the Security Manuals [1] and SIMATIC PCS 7 Compendium Part F [2]. Siemens is continuously improving their products and solutions, as well as the respective documentation. Siemens especially thanks OTORIO for raising these specific topics and will incorporate the provided suggestions in the next update of SIMATIC PCS 7 Compendium Part F.




OTORIO delivers industrial-native cybersecurity solutions that ensure reliable, safe and efficient digital transformation. Simplifying complex OT cybersecurity management processes, OTORIO empowers operational teams and cyber analysts with a clear understanding of the industrial cyber risks and their potential impact on productivity, safety and security. OTORIO’s portfolio includes RAM², an industrial security orchestration, automation & remediation platform (SOAR) as well as a rich set of cyber-expert services including cyber risk assessment, threat intelligence, incident response, penetration testing and more.