Recently Netragard has had a few discussions with owners and operators of sports arenas, with the purpose of identifying methods in which a malicious hacker could potentially disrupt a sporting event, concert, or other large scale and highly visible event.

During the course of the these conversations, the topic of discussion shifted from network exploitation to social engineering, with a focus on compromise of the digital signage systems.  Until recently, even I hadn’t thought about how extensively network controlled signage systems are used in facilities like casinos, sports arenas, airports, and roadside billboards.  That is, until our most recent casino project.

Netragard recently completed a Network Penetration Test and Social Engineering Test for a large west coast casino, with spectacular results. Not only were our engineers able to gain the keys to the kingdom, they were also able to gain access to the systems that had supervisory control for every single digital sign in the facility.  Some people may think to themselves, “ok, what’s the big deal with that?”.  The answer is simple:  Customer perception and corporate image.

Before I continue on, let me provide some background; Early in 2008, there were two incidents in California where two on-highway digital billboards were compromised, and their displays changed from the intended display.  While both of these incidents were small pranks in comparison to what they could have done, the effect was remembered by those who drove by and saw the signs.  (Example A, Example B)

Another recent billboard hack in Moscow, Russia, wasn’t as polite as the pranksters in California.  A hacker was able to gain control of a billboard in downtown Moscow (worth noting, Moscow is the 7th largest city in the world), and after subsequently gaining access, looped a video clip of pornographic material. (Example C) Imagine if this was a sports organization, and this happened during a major game.

Brining this post back on track, let’s refocus on the casino and the potential impact of signage compromise.  After spending time in the signage control server, we determined that there were over 40 unique displays available to control, some of which were over 100″ in display size.  WIth customer permission, we placed a unique image on a small sign for proof of concept purposes (go google “stallowned”).  This test, coupled with an impact audit, clearly highlighted to the casino that ensuring the security of their signage systems was nearly as paramount to securing their security systems, cage systems, and domain controllers.   All the domain security in the world means little to a customer if they’re presented with disruptive material on the signage during their visit to the casino.  A compromise of this nature could cause significant loss or revenue, and cause a customer to never re-visit the casino.

I also thought it pertinent for the purpose of this post to share another customer engagement story.  This story highlights how physical security can be compromised by a combination of social engineering and network exploitation, thus opening an additional risk vector that could allow for compromise of the local network running the digital display systems.

Netragard was engaged by a large bio-sciences company in late 2010 to assess the network and physical security of multiple locations belonging to a business unit that was a new acquisition.   During the course of this engagement, Netragard was able to take complete control of their network infrastructure remotely, as is the case in most of our engagements.  More so, our engineers were able to utilize the social engineering skills and “convince” the physical site staff to grant them building access.  Once passing this first layer of physical access, by combining social and network exploitation, they were subsequently able to gain access to sensitive labs and document storage rooms.  These facilities/rooms were key to the organizations intellectual property, and on-going research.  Had our engineers been hired by a competing company or other entity, there would have been a 100% chance that the IP (research data, trials data, and so forth) could have been spirited off company property and into hands unknown.

By combining network exploitation and social engineering, we’ve postulated to the sports arena operators that Netragard has a high probability of gaining access to the control systems for their digital signage.  Inevitably, during these discussions the organizations push back stating that their facilities have trained security staff and access control systems.  To that we inform them that the majority of sports facilities staff are more attuned to illicit access attempts in controlled areas, but only during certain periods of operation, such as active games, concerts, and other large scale events.   During non-public usage hours though, there’s a high probability that a skilled individual could gain entry to access controlled areas during a private event, or through beach of trust, such as posing as a repair technician, emergency services employee, or even a facility employee.

One area of concern for any organization, whether they be a football organization, Fortune 100 company, or a mid-size business, is breach of trust with their consumer base.  For a major sports organization, the level of national exposure and endearment far exceeds the exposure most Netragard customers have to the public.  Because of this extremely high national exposure, a sports organization and its arena are a prime target for those who may consider highly visible public disruption of games a key tool in furthering an socio-political agenda.  We’re hopeful that these organizations will continue to take a more serious stance to ensure that their systems and public image are as protected as possible.

– Mike Lockhart, VP of Operations

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