back to article Nuke plant has been hacked, says Atomic Energy Agency director

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency has said he's aware of a successful hack of a nuclear power plant. And as if that isn't bad enough, he also knows of an attempt to steal enriched uranium. Yukiya Amano is the agency's director and on Monday visited Germany for meetings, where a Reuters correspondent heard …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Canada's nuclear plants will run minicomputer OS PDP-11 for at least another 30 years. Try finding anti-virus software for that!

    Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11 and that would be detectable by the anti-virus software you can't run!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11"

      And then getting it into the machine in the first place.

      Visions of evil terrorist trying to program core memory with the use of the panel switches, or substitute paper tapes.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: "Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11"

        minicomputer OS PDP-11

        Any potential virus writers would first have to realise that PDP-11 isn't an OS, but a hardware architecture. I presume they're actually running some variant of RSX-11, though bits of the control system could also be running RT-11.

        It would be wrong, though, to assume that these machines are standalone. There were Ethernet adapters for both Unibus and Q-Bus PDP-11s and there was manufacturer support for a wide variety of comms - DECnet, SNA, X.25 (the latter two developed in the UK) as well as (later) third-party support for TCP/IP. If there's still ongoing support, it's as likely they have the machines networked in some fashion as that they're doing updates by carrying RK05s from one machine to another.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: "Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11"

          I'll raise your RK05's (all 2.4Mbytes of them) with an RL02 or an RK06 or even an RP06 (256Mbytes of CDC rebaged disk that could dance over the floor when set into diagnostics mode)

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: "Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11"

            My PDP11 has an RD52. All of 31MB, IIRC.

        2. BillG Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: "Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11"

          Canada's nuclear plants will run code specificallly assembled for PDP-11 minicomputers for at least another 30 years. Try finding antivirus software for that! Or security auditors who truly understand its innards.

          Good. Security by obscurity. I approve.

          Look, I doubt that any young hacker would want to go thru the effort learn the PDP-11 hardware (it's HW, not an OS) architecture when there are easier targets running Windows.

          And there are plenty of experienced PDP-11 engineers out there. Now that their kids have graduated and left the house, they would truly enjoy the opportunity to work on it again. Although I suggest Canada upgrade to VAX/VMS.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: "Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11"

        RE: Using a PDP11 for the next 20 years...

        it's actually not so bad. you could (theoretically) swap in an emulator running 'simhv' or some other well-known emulator [if such an emulator exists] when the hardware breaks down. Unless there's some super-custom peripheral device involved...

        it also demonstrates that reactor control computers don't have to be all that sophisticated.

        /me envisions doing it with an Arduino... or RPi . And RPi could run 'simhv'

        (I did some PDP-11 programming back in 'school days' including MACRO assembler so I'm kinda familiar)

        1. Steve the Cynic

          Re: "Try finding a virus that would both be capable of infecting a PDP-11"

          I remember a conversation by email with my brother from ... oh ... at least 15 years ago now ... concerning his job writing an emulator to allow PDP-11 code to run on PCs of some sort.

          And I, too, wrote PDP-11 code back in the day. In assembler, too. Uni course with the final project organised as a competition to see which of the four groups could get the best aggregate score for a sort of jigsaw-solving algorithm(1). The score was an aggregate based on memory used and time taken.

          My group won the competition with the best time *and* the smallest program. Two other groups were close behind, while the fourth trailed far, far behind because they wrote a chunk of the code in Pascal, producing a result that used prodigious amounts of CPU time *and* memory.

          (1) N by M puzzle, each piece was four integers to represent the four edges of the piece. A zero meant an edge piece, while a pair of zeros meant a corner. Two pieces were correctly adjacent if there was a particular arithmetic relationship between the numbers. The pieces were all aligned correctly (no rotation was needed), but arranged in no particular order.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      PDP-11 is a hardware family, like "x86" or "SPARC", not an OS, so talking about a virus for a PDP-11 is meaningless. You'd also have to know which of the many PDP-11 OSes these plants are running, and in at least some cases you'd have to rebuild the OS from source to include your virus and then rewrite the boot disk.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        it's a fair bet that a reactor would use something like RT-11 since it's an RTOS that can support custom hardware. So guessing the OS is probably not hard.

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Custom Hardware

          It was not only RT-11 could support custom hardware.

          I wrote many device drivers to allow custom hardware to work with RSX11-D/M/S/M-Plus when I worked at DEC.

          The problem child was RSTS/E but that was a time sharing system which is not ideal in any shape or form for running real time programmes.

      2. wayne 8

        SOP for Process Controllers was NO OS at all. Supervisor interrupt handling would be sub-optimal when "flame is coming out of the stack" as one such system programmer explained it.

    3. Doctor Huh?

      According to at least one group of haters, that PDP-11 virus would be....Unix...

      1. wayne 8

        I admit I used that as a joke in a meeting.

    4. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      One advantage of running a PDP-11 with 70's levels of RAM is that there is simply no room to run a virus. :-)

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        I had a tour of a nuclear plant a couple of years ago (the sight, sound and vibration of a "real" sized turbine in operation is something to behold) and it looked like in the control room they'd got the original 1970's systems and paper ring binders covering every possible operation, and they'd come up with an extension to the console containing a modern computer (the new part of the console was in a retro casing in imitation of the original console design)

        The modern computers weren't connected to the reliable ones.

      2. Warm Braw Silver badge

        there is simply no room to run a virus

        That's what the overlay manager is for - I seem to remember we got the entire network management command processor into 4K. Eventually.

  2. Khaptain Silver badge
    Flame

    Not a surprise

    Stuxnet was the first "publicly known" successful attack on facilities installations and we still do not know how successful is actually was. How many installation have already been pwned which we are completely unaware of ?

    The media is hellbent on displaying how Yahoo, Ashley Madison etc have been hacked but they truly hold no interest above and beyond personal embarrassment.

    When Nuclear Facilities, Hospitals, Electrical Stations are hacked we are then in a whole new game, a very serious one... One can also only presume that the hacks are "government backed", as the information about these facilities is not public knowledge and would require insider assistance..

    So the question that really needs to be asked is "What are they preparing for ?"..

    Since I watched "Angels and Demons" yesterday evening I can only surmise that the "Illuminati" are not some fictive underground secret society but far more likely to be those that we ourselves put into power.

    I love the ring of the word "Illuminati", it truly portrays the notion of the "Intelligencia" waving their greedy wands somewhere, and ironically, in the "shadows". I do wonder sometimes though if their ideas are not just vague remnants of spy novels that they once read and that then enticed them into making fantasy into fiction, just because they can.

    See that full length body hat with "conspiracy theorist" written in dreadlocks, well that's mine.....

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Not a surprise

      I can only surmise that the "Illuminati" are not some fictive underground secret society but far more likely to be those that we ourselves put into power.

      Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not a surprise

        "Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity."

        I resent that. As a fully paid up member of the Bavarian Illuminati, to give it its proper name, I would just like to say that we're having one of the best years since our foundation, though Member X27b is finding the US elections a little tougher than expected and we've had to have a word with Y13a about her shoes.Oh, and don't bother trying to apply to join, we're a bit oversubscribed at the moment and it's proving quite difficult to find new world domination plots to engage in, especially as some of what is currently happening is so bizarre that we're not sure whether it is in fact us or just some random psychopath.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not a surprise

          As a fully paid up member of the Bavarian Illuminati...

          You guys are doing a great job of taking the rap. Just don't worry your pretty little heads about who is really running things. Just keep believing it is a random psycopath.

          1. The Indomitable Gall

            Re: Not a surprise

            " Just don't worry your pretty little heads about who is really running things. "

            Who? Who? If I've told you once, I've told you a million times: The Network is not a person. It is a very sophisticated computer program that successfully simulates features of natural life. But it is not "alive".

        2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: Not a surprise

          "As a fully paid up member of the Bavarian Illuminati..."

          Nice try... but I have it on good authority that the world is run by The Authorised. You've all seen the signs saying 'authorised personnel only' and the like, haven't you? I think I even know where their secret headquarter is.

          But seriously, book tip: Umberto Eco - Foucault's Pendulum

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not a surprise

            "But seriously, book tip: Umberto Eco - Foucault's Pendulum"

            Of course - you don't really imagine I belong to the Bavarian Illuminati? I laugh at such feeble subterfuges. If you play the operating system code of an Apple II backwards at 44kHz into a low pass sound filter, you'll find it says "The world is secretly run by the Tres".

            1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

              Re: Not a surprise

              Obvious smokescreen for the gullible ... *waves hand* these are not the conspirators you're looking for ...

      2. Anonymous Blowhard

        Re: Not a surprise

        "Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity."

        @ Paul Crawford, I don't think there was any malice in his post...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not a surprise

      "The media is hellbent on displaying how Yahoo, Ashley Madison etc have been hacked but they truly hold no interest above and beyond personal embarrassment."

      Wrong. They also hold significant interest for tabloids as a) the journalists can "understand" that, and more importantly b) they provide an excuse a reason for the right sort of pictures. In the same way that stories about school exam results seem to feature pictures of smiling teenage girls.

      I suspect this is part of the same journalistic "mind" that portrays nuclear as dangerous (because it's hard for tabloids to explain when some of the tabloid journalists can't even spell science) , corporate tax arrangements as immoral (yet when the Guardian did it for years, it was fine), interception of calls/etc by governments as a terrible thing but when newspapers did it that was just a few bad apples, and so on. The word "hypocrisy" is too complicated for most tabloids to use, so why would they need to admit to it?

      As for "Angels and Demons" and similar, find the QI in which Stephen Fry describes Dan Brown's "work" perfectly.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not a surprise

          "The Da Vinci Code may well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word renowned"

          I read The Da Vinci Code. It was a wet week in Shropshire, the broadband was terrible and the mobile signal was 2 bars on the top of the nearest hill, that's how desperate I was. As literature, it was junk. The plot was probably invented by the IBM buzzphrase generator. The endless repetition of brand names grated. The probability of the events was so low that the average ink cartridge would run out before it had printed enough zeroes after the decimal point. But - and I say this carefully, aware of the likely flurry of downvotes, Stephen Fry has written at least one book that wasn't any better and should be careful what he writes on the subject. There's one about an alternative universe with no Hitler which has plot holes you could drive a galaxy-centre-size black hole through. Douglas Adams was a literary genius - a master of language and ingenuity, fizzing with ideas - and he wouldn't have knocked another author like that. Even Dan Brown.

          1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

            @Voyna i Mor

            It's fine, Stephen Fry is definitely not a sacred cow here

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Voyna i Mor

              I admit I do feel a little bad about criticising Stephen Fry - he was my generation at Fen Poly and, as he's been far more successful than me, it might seem like sour grapes. But I do fear that the epitaph on his career may be "proved that Douglas Adams wasn't replaceable."

              Looking at what's happening in the world today, it makes me rather cross that DNA isn't around to comment on the insanity.

              1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

                Re: @Voyna i Mor / Fry, DNA

                Give Jasper Fforde a try.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not a surprise

          I read The Da Vinci Code code once ... most the first half of it, the book was in the toilet cubical at camp, the pages at the end were missing so I never did finish it. After I took a dump a few more pages were missing.

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Not a surprise

        To save your searching - Fry on Brown: "It is complete loose stool water. It is arse-gravy of the worst kind."

        See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPRThhXT-xc

      3. Kurt Meyer
        Headmaster

        Re: Not a surprise

        @ AC

        "... pictures of smiling teenage girls."

        In their school uniforms?

        Perhaps on a windy day?

        I'll get my cane.

    3. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Not a surprise 4 Khaptain

      The media has tried to report on the issues of a hacked nuclear power plant, electrical grid etc, but the people don't read or watch those stories.

      Blame where it belongs.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not a surprise

      I can only surmise that the "Illuminati" are not some fictive underground secret society

      Illuminati completely & demonstrably exists. . .

      I just bought some . . .[€8]

      haven't drunk it yet tho'

      http://www.illuminativini.com/en/

  3. Your alien overlord - fear me

    What's the collaboration between hackers infecting a nuke power plant and some kids wanting glow-in-the-dark bollocks trying to sneak some stuff out?

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      What's the collaboration between hackers infecting a nuke power plant and some kids wanting glow-in-the-dark bollocks trying to sneak some stuff out?

      I don't know, but the IEA is not confirming rumours that in place of the missing uranium they found a casing full of used pinball machine parts.

      1. Mayhem

        I heard all they found was a single lemon drop.

        They are now looking for some *quite strong* terrorists.

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          @Mayhem I heard all they found was a single lemon drop.

          And the spokesman has retired to run a chicken-farm with his brother, a former Met police officer?

  4. jimdandy

    Uh,yeah...unless y'all have lost your minds, this is nothing new. The West's foremost defender of all things, well westernmost is busy dealing with low quality and simple digital control systems. Whether they be locked down by access controls, or floating on the local admin system by nuts & bolts of the local control, things that go bump in the night (or Brrrr-up, on the system) are still out there.

    Things are only as good as the people believe they are. Right up until the Shite hits the Phan.

    It doesn't take a movie to find the problem. It only takes a sincere and dedicated asshole.

    Got your temp power and flashlight handy?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    News at 10

    I spent 2 years working with radioactive materials (H3, P32, etc) as a student in a lab (those were the days before the H&S paranoia). So my brain is in violation of the relevant part of the UK criminal code "materials useful for terrorism" (sorry, cannot remove it and hand it for police inspection).

    Based on what it contains... Enriched Uranium... Dirty bomb... Meah... Wake me up when someone tries to steal any quantity of radioactive Cobalt or Cesium. Now that will be "code brown" (pants) - the sh*t is nearly impossible to clean up.

    Uranium's value as dirty bomb material is purely journalistic

    1. 's water music Silver badge

      Re: News at 10

      Uranium's value as dirty bomb material is purely journalistic

      That's the best (only?) kind of value for terrorism

    2. Conundrum1885

      Re: News at 10

      Thanks for that.

      Interestingly I am apparently on the UK terrorism watch list for the heinous "crime" of searching for Geiger tubes, seems that an interest in radiological protection can get you put on there. Needless to say since then my mail has been tampered with and broadband hacked (twice) ended up having to go down to the Police Station and explain exactly what I was up to, voluntarily. Not that it helped, this is HMRC being awkward.

      Interestingly a lot of concern has been raised about attempted thefts of "Moly Cows" in transit recently as 99Mo is about 1/8 as bad as 60Co if airborne. Fortunately these are pretty secure these days and the courier has quadruple redundant failsafes (two thoroughly vetted people turning up at the same place at the same time with 1/2 of the key, etc).. what concerns me personally is some eejit stealing an orphan source such as the Fobos-Grunt wreckage in Chile as airborne 238Pu is especially nasty.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: News at 10

        @Conundrum1885

        searching for Geiger tubes

        Can't be certain, for it was a long time ago when Maplin was an electronic component retailer, they may well have had Gieger tubes in their inventory. There may have been a project published in the Maplin Magazine for a Gieger counter - Mid to late 80s?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: News at 10

          "Can't be certain, for it was a long time ago when Maplin was an electronic component retailer, they may well have had Gieger tubes in their inventory. "

          Ah, the good old days when an interest in nuclear physics led to a job with BNFL rather than being put on police watchlists. The stuff we did in the 6th form in expectation of doing a physics or chemistry degree would probably get you locked up nowadays. Having signed the OSA, it's sometimes difficult for me to remember what I am, and am not, allowed to talk about.

          1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

            Re: News at 10

            "Can't be certain, for it was a long time ago when Maplin was an electronic component retailer,

            That was in pre-crime days my friend. Definitely in the days before the government tried to use terrorism prevention orders on people attending a Chemistry course (and that was nearly 10 years ago so way before that).

            Today - you can forget it. If you show any proper interest (anything beyond reading wikipedia) you will be officially labeled subversive and enqueued for Lark Hill once Teresa Vissarionovich runs the next elections under yet another false flag to become the High Chancellor of thus unified and cleansed Britannia.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: News at 10 - Teresa Vissarionovich

              I wasn't aware that she had had a sex change. Do you perhaps mean Teresa Josifovna Djugashvili? I have nothing against creative insults provided they follow the rules, and "son of" is a bit unkind.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: News at 10

            "The stuff we did in the 6th form in expectation of doing a physics or chemistry degree would probably get you locked up nowadays."

            Sugar and sodium chlorate was regarded as an entertainment.

            1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

              Re: News at 10

              As were superheating the steam coming out of a Mamod boiler.

              I even made a cannon out of Gun Metal in Metalwork with the Sled made in Woodwork.

              This was all before Man walked on the moon and we all became terrorists (in the eyes of the Yanks)

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: News at 10

                Sorry, you Brits have it quite wrong there. It wasn't the Yanks that turned everyone into terrorists.

                You folks did that to yourselves right after the Lockerbie crash. We just went along with the gag afterwards.

            2. Captain Badmouth
              Thumb Up

              Re: News at 10

              "Sugar and sodium chlorate was regarded as an entertainment."

              The thermite reaction was good "shit your pants" stuff too.

        2. AJ MacLeod

          Re: News at 10

          They did indeed - I can still remember the cover, with (presumably) a man in anti-radiation suit and Gieger counter...

          1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

            Re: News at 10

            @ AJ MacLeod

            They did indeed - I can still remember the cover, with (presumably) a man in anti-radiation suit and Gieger counter...

            Thanks for that - at least that sort of proves that neither of us has got dementia (yet).

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: News at 10

        @Conundrum1885

        Take a look at this - for gamma and alpha radiation, using photo diodes

        "Improved Radiation Meter"

        https://www.elektor.com/110538-71

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: News at 10

      'I spent 2 years working with radioactive materials (H3, P32, etc) as a student in a lab... So my brain is in violation of the relevant part of the UK criminal code "materials useful for terrorism"'

      I doubt it. P32 has a short half-life anyway and normal biological turnover will have flushed the tritium out long ago.

      'Wake me up when someone tries to steal any quantity of radioactive Cobalt'

      There's probably more of that about in the environment than you might think. Way back when the Belfast Radiocarbon lab was being set up we had to cast about for some old steel sheets to use in shielding as modern (in the '60s) steel was considered to contain cobalt-60.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: News at 10

      Uranium's value as dirty bomb material is purely journalistic

      Depends on the history of the sample. Natural or enriched uranium which has never being through a reactor - sure, chemical toxicity would be a greater worry than the tiny amount of radiation it gives off. Once it has been through the reactor though, it is full of the fission byproducts, most of them radioactive and many of them rather nasty.

      Where do you think the radioactive contamination at Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi came from? Most of it started its life as perfectly nice and law-abiding uranium nuclei.

  6. Jimmy2Cows

    Amano's remarks are prima facie terrifying

    No, they are not.

    I'm more likely to be hit by lightning twice. In the same place. On the same day in consecutive years.

  7. jake Silver badge

    One wonders ...

    ... what the nature of the so-called "hack" was, and how fast the idiot in charge of system security was shown the door.

    That said, I've been making money from my knowledge of the PDP11 family since 1979. I don't expect this to change any time soon. Shit that works, works. For some reason, kiddies fail to understand that simple concept.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One wonders ...Shit that works, works.

      And in the case of the PDP-11, the point is it worked exceedingly well. If I was, heaven forbid, asked to design a control system for a nuclear plant, I would want a controller that could be understood down to the gate level and the machine code by a few reasonably intelligent graduates, and the software for which had been written by people who completely understood the problem space, with nothing superfluous as part of some library.

      I've designed machine controllers from the ground up, and knowing what everything does is a recipe for undisturbed sleep.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: One wonders ...

      @jake

      "I've been making money from my knowledge of the PDP11 family since 1979"

      It's MY opinion that a virus or trojan on a PDP11 would be hard to insert, depending on how the OS was built/installed. Without a multi-user system and a remote terminal, I'd say IMPOSSIBLE without physical access. And that would be noticed. RT11 *could* be re-built from an operator console, but the reboot of the new kernel would ALSO be noticed, like "reactor scram" due to the reboot (or similar).

      You're probably more experienced with these systems than me, so would you concur? Mostly just curious.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: One wonders ...

        0) The so-called "hack" and ElReg's fixation on laughing at the continuing use of PDP11s are, in all likelihood, completely unrelated.

        1) The so-called "hack" is unknown. Could be as simple as picking the lock to the machine-room door or using a little social engineering on an employee at a pub.

        2) The PDP11s in question can run realtime, multiuser, multitasking operating systems (probably). Whoever has access to the monitor/kernel can do pretty much whatever they like. Not that I would recommend it in such a scenario.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    State sponsored hack = O.K.

    ... because everybody does it.

    Now let's move on and put some whistleblowers on trial for treason.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The safest form of energy is?

      Or, to put it another way, for the whole of my adult life (and I'm in my 70s) there's been no excuse for wasting good fossil carbon feed-stocks by shoving them up power station chimneys.

  10. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Headmaster

    The fear of millenials

    "Amano's remarks are prima facie terrifying"

    Rumor mongering by M. Amano is "prima facie terrifying"? Who knew?

    "but perhaps even scarier when one considers our 2013 story revealing Canada's nuclear plants will run code specificallly assembled for PDP-11 minicomputers for at least another 30 years"

    Actually sounds relaxing, TBH.

    As to the "could have been used to construct a dirty bomb" ... I think it's easier to get a fat chunk of DU and dust that over the city, see the uranium babies pile up.

  11. itzman
    Holmes

    What a very substandard article this is

    Of all the places that are safe to be hacked, a nuclear power station is the safest.

    A hint of anything and they shut down.

    1. harmjschoonhoven
      Alert

      Re: What a very substandard article this is

      Watch a chilling interview with survivors of the armed attack on South Africa's nuclear plant at Pelindaba that holds enough fuel for a dozen atomic bombs. Even just the first few minutes will give you a new appreciation of the risk we face.

      With thanks to http://nuclearrisk.org/ for providing the link.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: What a very substandard article this is

        Droll. Must be a facility managed by sun people.

        "What happened at Pelindaba is the thing that keeps Presidents awake at night"

        I rather think that the thing that keeps Presidents awake at night is getting the next cheque to finance the elect-me circus and pandering to the masses instead of doing policy.

  12. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Umm. PDP-11s? good!

    "but perhaps even scarier when one considers our 2013 story revealing Canada's nuclear plants will run code specificallly assembled for PDP-11 minicomputers for at least another 30 years"

    I'm living between 4 nukes 15km west of me and one 4km east of me (soon to be two!!!* yay)

    Please, please,please -- lets NOT cough "Upgrade" cough those control systems to something that doesn't have a 30 year history of doing the job right.

    And having run a couple of PDP-11/75 systems a few times, as long as the storage is kept upgraded and the hardware support contract is valid, I'd rather those than some of the utter crap that I've met in the last few years.

    * (soon in this case is a relative term)

    1. Conundrum1885

      Re: Umm. PDP-11s? good!

      Had this discussion with some folks about why they still (!) used XP.

      Apparently the reason given was that it "Just works!" (tm) and they either ignored the security issues and ran it standalone or used embedded XP which is still patched even now.

      Some hospitals still run Windows 2000 because to recertify their gear with anything else would be next to impossible and besides many of the staff are in their 60's and trained for decades to use them as they are, all the others use it so diagnostic data exchange becomes a severe headache if some upgrade and some do not.

      Medical imaging is one area where you are *required* to run a specific OS for the special software certification and they chose Windows 2000 a long time ago which causes no end of problems when some bean counter wonders why they spend $$$ on nearly antique hardware when some old dinosaur of a machine finally breaks down for want of an AT power supply last made in 1997.

      Little tip: there's money to be made if someone can make a converter to plug a new 2015 650W PSU into, that outputs stable noise-free voltage and current for an AT motherboard.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Umm. PDP-11s? good!

        "Some hospitals still run Windows 2000 because to recertify their gear with anything else would be next to impossible and besides many of the staff are in their 60's and trained for decades to use them as they are"

        Great. Casual ageism - still PC if not mandatory. And remind me how many complete decades since W2K came out (there's a clue in the name).

        The principle argument of "just works" is sound so why throw in some bollocks to spoli it?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Umm. PDP-11s? good!

        "Had this discussion with some folks about why they still (!) used XP."

        No, it was a different discussion. XP is a commercial operating system with many undocumented hooks between subsystems. A PDP-11 running a nuclear plant is going to be running some extremely dedicated code on an operating system which is little more than a program launcher running on bare metal. In fact, it would probably be perfectly feasible to implement the entire gubbins on an FPGA.

        There is a very big difference between running commercial software on commercial hardware, and running dedicated software on dedicated hardware. One gets you to the fringes of the Solar System, one potentially gets you infested with viruses.

      3. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: Umm. PDP-11s? good!

        Little tip: there's money to be made if someone can make a converter to plug a new 2015 650W PSU into, that outputs stable noise-free voltage and current for an AT motherboard.

        Converters are not exactly rare. Some more expensive ones even provide the -5VDC that started to be phased out in ATX1.2/ATX1.3 (or thereabouts). I can't speak for medical applications, but for ISA it was mostly (IIRC) used by sound cards and alike.

  13. theblackhand

    I always knew...

    ...that the proposed Uranium over Ethernet standard was going to cause problems in the future....

  14. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    PDP-11

    I thought that PDP-11 assembler was called "C". Surely it should be possible to train the engineers needed to maintain the code.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: PDP-11

      Yeah, but this is pre-ISO, etc C with half of the includes and most libraries people rely upon today missing. You will have difficulty finding people to work with that.

    2. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      Re: PDP-11

      Training ENGINEERS yes - training COMPUTER SCIENCE GRADUATES no.

      Confront a modern computer science graduate with a system with no GUI, code written in assembler and low level C and watch him (or her) run away as fast as possible.

      Most (if not all) computer science graduates are unable to conceive of a system that is expected to run UNCHANGED for 20 years.

      For critical industrial systems it is far better to get the coding done by engineers than by computer science graduates.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: PDP-11

      PDP-11's existed a long time before Unix was created.

      I first started writing code for a PDP-11/40 in 1974 using the Fortran

      When the RSX11-D (And the -M , -S and -M-Plus) variants came along the Assembler programme was called Macro-11.

      I got hold of the sources to the programme and replaced the PDP-11 instruction set with that of a graphics card that were were using. You could buy a Magtape with all the OS Sources on. The sources also came on microfiche.

      MOV R1, R2

      ADD R1,R2

      BLT 1$

      etc

      etc

      I have a full set of PDP-11/34A schematics to go along with the actual hardware in my Garage. One Day I may get around to donating them to the NMOC at Bletchely.

      My PDP-11/84 runs RSX11/M-Plus perfectly well to this day.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: PDP-11

        "PDP-11's existed a long time before Unix was created."

        Nope. They were as near to being concurrent as makes no never-mind.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: PDP-11

      " thought that PDP-11 assembler was called "C". Surely it should be possible to train the engineers needed to maintain the code."

      nope. it's called 'MACRO' but the C language has many features that are actually implemented by PDP-11 in hardware.

      Register modes include 'pre' and 'post' auto-increment and auto-decrement, and a sensible method of index-based indirection. Some of these are (obviously) found in other processors too (like x86, M68K) but PDP-11 pioneered a lot of this by implementing it in the hardware like that. The intent was to avoid accumulator-based operations by using GP registers, and significantly reduce the size of the code.

      Anyway, it was pretty good tech at the time. If it weren't for the 16-bit limited address space (and klunky ways of extending it beyond 64k), it might have become the basis for PCs.

      conclusion: what you said is _almost_ correct. The 'C' language WAS developed for PDP-11 and VAX (as part of developing UNIX, well known history), and has PDP-11-isms in it like '++' . It's like 1 step above MACRO assembler on a PDP-11.

      (I'd give examples but I might get some detail wrong and get down-voted over it, ha ha ha)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: PDP-11

        "Anyway, it was pretty good tech at the time. If it weren't for the 16-bit limited address space"

        Limited address space? When it was introduced people wondered what they would do with all the space available. It only had a limited address space because the design was so popular and lasted such a long time. By the time the 386 was introduced, the PDP-11 was already 15 years old.

    5. CaliDiver

      Re: PDP-11

      disgrunted yank - PDP-11 Assembler would be MACRO-11. "C" would be a higher level language.

      I wrote code for RSX-11m on PDPs for a bit over a decade. If you need a system that only needs to be rebooted on disk failure or power outage, the PDP was near the top of the list. Y2K killed off the last of the data center dinosaurs I herded.

  15. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    I'll sleep more soundly at night

    I'd rather they ran on PDP-11's than some Windows incarnation.

    I also much prefer the fact they are programmed by people who actually know how computers work, who don't see "you heed a faster computer" or "you need more RAM" as valid excuses for sucky code.

    People with flappy beards, not flappy birds!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Your Access has Been revoked

    Can we just execute anyone that makes control systems accessible via an internet connection?

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Your Access has Been revoked

      Sure, just find an exploitable buffer overflow in a nearby employee...

  17. unwarranted triumphalism

    Greenie terrorists at it again

    But the authorities refuse to act...

  18. DougS Silver badge

    Hacked in what way?

    Was it some ordinary malware that someone stupidly infected their plant with because they inserted a USB stick or didn't have air gaps separating the systems running the plant?

    Or was it a Stuxnet style targeted attack, which lowers the list of possible attackers to about five.

  19. Roo
    Windows

    "Or security auditors who truly understand its innards."

    Auditing the inards of a -11 will be few orders of magnitude simpler than auditing the inards of modern SoC. With x86 you have zero hope of auditing it down to hardware level - there is a ton of hidden state in those things and a smorgasbord of security models which all interlock intricately and are documented in prose format. I know which I would prefer to audit. :)

  20. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Aiee! Wait, how long ago did this happen?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have I missed something here ?

    Disconnect the control systems from the internet, prevent USB stick reading.

    Add a simple element of manual control to input instructions from the national grid.

    Monitor the power output using totally separate systems.

    Have proper security on the gates.

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