Backdoor in mission-critical hardware threatens power, traffic-control systems

In the world of computer systems used to flip switches, open valves, and control other equipment inside giant electrical substations and railroad communications systems, you’d think the networking gear would be locked down tightly to prevent tampering by vandals. But for customers of Ontario, Canada-based RuggedCom, there’s a good chance those Internet-connected devices have backdoors that make unauthorized access a point-and-click exercise.

That’s because equipment running RuggedCom’s Rugged Operating System has an undocumented account that can’t be modified and a password that’s trivial to crack. What’s more, researchers say, for years the company hasn’t bothered to warn the power utilities, military facilities, and municipal traffic departments using the industrial-strength gear that the account can give attackers the means to sabotage operations that affect the safety of huge populations of people.

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