Attacking supercomputers through targeted alteration of environmental control: A data driven case study

Keywhan Chung, Valerio Formicola, Zbigniew T Kalbarczyk, Ravishankar K Iyer, Alexander Withers, Adam J Slagell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

In this paper, we show that a malicious user can attack a large computing infrastructure by compromising the environmental control systems in the facilities that host the compute nodes. Such violations cannot be easily recognized by the administrators who manage the cluster, because of limited observation of the events in the cyber-physical systems. We describe real cases of failures due to problems in the cooling system of Blue Waters, the petascale supercomputer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Blue Waters has cooling cabinets that use chilled water provided by the National Petascale Computing Facility (NPCF). We demonstrate, using real data, that the control systems that provide chilled water can be used as entry points by an attacker to indirectly compromise the computing functionality through the orchestration of clever alterations of sensing and control devices. In this way, the attacker does not leave any trace of his or her malicious activity on the nodes of the cluster. Failures of the cooling systems can trigger unrecoverable failure modes that can be recovered only after service interruption and manual intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2016 IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security, CNS 2016
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
Pages406-410
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781509030651
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 21 2017
Event2016 IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security, CNS 2016 - Philadelphia, United States
Duration: Oct 17 2016Oct 19 2016

Publication series

Name2016 IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security, CNS 2016

Other

Other2016 IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security, CNS 2016
CountryUnited States
CityPhiladelphia
Period10/17/1610/19/16

    Fingerprint

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality

Cite this

Chung, K., Formicola, V., Kalbarczyk, Z. T., Iyer, R. K., Withers, A., & Slagell, A. J. (2017). Attacking supercomputers through targeted alteration of environmental control: A data driven case study. In 2016 IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security, CNS 2016 (pp. 406-410). [7860528] (2016 IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security, CNS 2016). Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.. https://doi.org/10.1109/CNS.2016.7860528