Inmarsat says ‘vulnerable’ software no longer in service

Inmarsat has scotched reports citing that ‘critical security flaws’ exist in one of its vessel communication platforms.

US-based IOActive, which carries out cyber security research, claimed there were cyber security vulnerabilities affecting Stratos Global’s AmosConnect communication shipboard platform. Stratos Global, an Inmarsat company, provides global maritime communications services and is used by thousands of vessels.

AmosConnect supports narrowband satellite communications and integrates vessel and shore-based office applications such as email, fax, telex, GSM text, interoffice communication, and access for mobile personnel into a single messaging system.

The flaws IOActive says it discovered include blind SQL injection in a login form, and a backdoor account that provides full system privileges that could allow remote unauthenticated attackers to execute arbitrary code on the AmosConnect server. If compromised, the company said, this flaw can be leveraged to gain unauthorised network access to sensitive information stored in the AmosConnect server and potentially open access to other connected systems or networks.

However, a statement by Inmarsat said it is aware of the IOactive report but “it is important to note AmosConnect 8 (AC8) is no longer in service.”

Maritime cyber security has been under increasing scrutiny this year with a few maritime disasters that occurred this summer, including the June 2017 GPS spoofing attack involving over 20 vessels in the Black Sea that left navigation experts and maritime executives speculating it was due to a cyber attack. In August 2017, questions arose that the collision involving the USS John McCain with a chemical tanker could have possibly been the result of cyber tampering, leading to the Navy to implement cyber investigations on similar situations moving forward.

IOActive’s Ruben Santamarta conducted prior security research on satellite communications, which originally peaked Mario Ballano’s interest in environments where SATCOM devices are in place, and ultimately led him to investigate the security of the AmosConnect 8.4.0 system. Ballano conducted his research in September of 2016, and claims he could gain full system privileges, essentially becoming the administrator of the box where AmosConnect is installed. If there were to be any other software or data stored in this box, the attacker would have access to those and potentially to other networks connected to the box.

“Essentially anyone interested in sensitive company information or looking to attack a vessel’s IT infrastructure could take advantage of these flaws,” said Mr Ballano. “This leaves crew member and company data extremely vulnerable, and could present risks to the safety of the entire vessel. Maritime cyber security must be taken seriously as our global logistics supply chain relies on it and as cyber criminals increasingly find new methods of attack.”

IOActive says it informed Inmarsat of the vulnerabilities in October 2016, and completed the disclosure process in July of 2017. Inmarsat has since discontinued the 8.0 version of the platform and has recommended that customers revert back to AmosConnect 7.0 or switch to an email solution from one of their approved partners.

A statement from Inmarsat said: “Inmarsat is aware of the IOActive report but it is important to note AmosConnect 8 (AC8) is no longer in service.

“Inmarsat had begun a process to retire AmosConnect 8 from our portfolio prior to IOActive’s report and, in 2016, we communicated to our customers that the service would be terminated in July 2017.

“When IOActive brought the potential vulnerability to our attention, early in 2017, and despite the product reaching end of life, Inmarsat issued a security patch that was applied to AC8 to greatly reduce the risk potentially posed.  We also removed the ability for users to download and activate AC8 from our public website.

“Inmarsat’s central server no longer accepts connections from AmosConnect 8 email clients, so customers cannot use this software even if they wished too.

“It is important to note that this vulnerability would have been very difficult to exploit as it would require direct access to the shipboard PC that ran the AC8 email client.  This could only be done by direct physical access to the PC, which would require an intruder to gain access to the ship and then to the computer.  While remote access was deemed to be a remote possibility as this would have been blocked by Inmarsat’s shoreside firewalls.”

Inmarsat says it made IOActive aware of these facts.