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Mysterious safety-tampering malware infects a second critical infrastructure site

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Enlarge / Critical infrastructure sites such as this oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, rely on safety systems.IIP Photo Archive

Sixteen months ago, researchers reported an unsettling escalation in hacks targeting power plants, gas refineries, and other types of critical infrastructure. Attackers who may have been working on behalf of a nation caused an operational outage at a critical-infrastructure site after deliberately targeting a system that prevented health- and life-threatening accidents.

There had been compromises of critical infrastructure sites before. What was unprecedented in this attack—and of considerable concern to some researchers and critical infrastructure operators—was the use of an advanced piece of malware that targeted the unidentified sites safety processes. Such safety instrumented systems (SIS) are a combination of hardware and software that many critical infrastructure sites use to prevent unsafe conditions from arising. When gas fuel pressures or reactor temperatures rise to potentially unsafe thresholds, for instance, a SIS will automatically close valves or initiate cooling processes to prevent health- or life-threatening accidents. By focusing on the sites SIS, the malware carried the threat of physical destruction that depending on the site and the type of accident had the potential to be serious if not catastrophic. The malware was alternately named Triton and Trisis, because it targeted the Triconex product line made by Schneider Electric. Its development was ultimately linked to a Russian government-backed research institute.

Not an isolated incident

Now, researchers at FireEye—the same security firm that discovered Triton and its ties to Russia—say they have uncovered an additional intrusion that used the same malicious software framework against a different critical infrastructure site. As was the case in the first intrusion, the attackers focused most of their resources on the facilitys OT, or operational technology, which are systems for monitoring and managing physical processes and devices.

“After establishing an initial foothold on the corporate network, the Triton actor focused most of their effort on gaining access to the OT network,” FireEye researchers wrote in a report published Wednesday. “They did not exhibit activities commonly associated with espionage, such as using key loggers and screenshot grabbers, browsing files, and/or exfiltrating large amounts of information. Most of the attack tools they used were focused on network reconnaissance, lateral movement, and maintaining presence in the target environment.”

Once the attackers in the new attack gained access to the sites SIS controllers, they appeared to focus solely on maintaining this control. This focus involved strategically limiting other activities to lessen the chances of being discovered.

The discovery has unearthed a new set of never-before-seen custom tools that shows the attackers have been operational since as early as 2014. The existence of these tools, and the attackers demonstrated interest in operational security, lead FireEye researchers to believe there may be others sites beyond the two already known where the Triton attackers were or still are present.

In an email, John Hultquist, FireEye's director of cyber-espionage analysis, wrRead More – Source

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Ars Technica

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