Change Operating Mode

Adversaries may change the operating mode of a controller to gain additional access to engineering functions such as Program Download. Programmable controllers typically have several modes of operation that control the state of the user program and control access to the controllers API. Operating modes can be physically selected using a key switch on the face of the controller but may also be selected with calls to the controllers API. Operating modes and the mechanisms by which they are selected often vary by vendor and product line. Some commonly implemented operating modes are described below:

  • Program - This mode must be enabled before changes can be made to a devices program. This allows program uploads and downloads between the device and an engineering workstation. Often the PLCs logic Is halted, and all outputs may be forced off. [1]
  • Run - Execution of the devices program occurs in this mode. Input and output (values, points, tags, elements, etc.) are monitored and used according to the programs logic. Program Upload and Program Download are disabled while in this mode. [2] [3] [1] [4]
  • Remote - Allows for remote changes to a PLCs operation mode. [4]
  • Stop - The PLC and program is stopped, while in this mode, outputs are forced off. [3]
  • Reset - Conditions on the PLC are reset to their original states. Warm resets may retain some memory while cold resets will reset all I/O and data registers. [3]
  • Test / Monitor mode - Similar to run mode, I/O is processed, although this mode allows for monitoring, force set, resets, and more generally tuning or debugging of the system. Often monitor mode may be used as a trial for initialization. [2]
ID: T0858
Sub-techniques:  No sub-techniques
Tactics: Execution, Evasion
Platforms: None
Version: 1.0
Created: 21 May 2020
Last Modified: 13 October 2023

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description

INCONTROLLER can establish a remote HTTP connection to change the operating mode of Omron PLCs.[5][6]

S1006 PLC-Blaster

PLC-Blaster stops the execution of the user program on the target to enable the transfer of its own code. The worm then copies itself to the target and subsequently starts the target PLC again. [7]

S1009 Triton

Triton has the ability to halt or run a program through the TriStation protocol. contains instances of halt and run functions being executed. [8]

Targeted Assets

ID Asset
A0003 Programmable Logic Controller (PLC)
A0010 Safety Controller


ID Mitigation Description
M0801 Access Management

Authenticate all access to field controllers before authorizing access to, or modification of, a device's state, logic, or programs. Centralized authentication techniques can help manage the large number of field controller accounts needed across the ICS.

M0800 Authorization Enforcement

All field controllers should restrict operating mode changes to only required authenticated users (e.g., engineers, field technicians), preferably through implementing a role-based access mechanism. Further, physical mechanisms (e.g., keys) can also be used to limit unauthorized operating mode changes.

M0802 Communication Authenticity

Protocols used for device management should authenticate all network messages to prevent unauthorized system changes.

M0804 Human User Authentication

All field controllers should require users to authenticate for all remote or local management sessions. The authentication mechanisms should also support Account Use Policies, Password Policies, and User Account Management.

M0807 Network Allowlists

Use host-based allowlists to prevent devices from accepting connections from unauthorized systems. For example, allowlists can be used to ensure devices can only connect with master stations or known management/engineering workstations. [9]

M0930 Network Segmentation

Segment operational network and systems to restrict access to critical system functions to predetermined management systems. [9]

M0813 Software Process and Device Authentication

Authenticate connections fromsoftware and devices to prevent unauthorized systems from accessing protected management functions.


ID Data Source Data Component Detects
DS0015 Application Log Application Log Content

Monitor device application logs which may contain information related to operating mode changes, although not all devices produce such logs.

DS0029 Network Traffic Network Traffic Content

Monitor ICS management protocols for functions that change an asset’s operating mode.

DS0040 Operational Databases Device Alarm

Monitor alarms for information about when an operating mode is changed, although not all devices produce such logs.