The Department of Energy, CISA, the FBI, and the NSA jointly issued an advisory describing a sophisticated piece of malware called Pipedream that’s designed to attack a wide range of industrial control systems. This is clearly from a government, but no attribution is given. There’s also no indication of how the malware was discovered. It seems not to have been used yet.
Entries Tagged "SCADA"
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According to a report from CISA last week, there were three ransomware attacks against water treatment plants last year.
WWS Sector cyber intrusions from 2019 to early 2021 include:
- In August 2021, malicious cyber actors used Ghost variant ransomware against a California-based WWS facility. The ransomware variant had been in the system for about a month and was discovered when three supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) servers displayed a ransomware message.
- In July 2021, cyber actors used remote access to introduce ZuCaNo ransomware onto a Maine-based WWS facility’s wastewater SCADA computer. The treatment system was run manually until the SCADA computer was restored using local control and more frequent operator rounds.
- In March 2021, cyber actors used an unknown ransomware variant against a Nevada-based WWS facility. The ransomware affected the victim’s SCADA system and backup systems. The SCADA system provides visibility and monitoring but is not a full industrial control system (ICS).
EKANS is a new ransomware that targets industrial control systems:
But EKANS also uses another trick to ratchet up the pain: It’s designed to terminate 64 different software processes on victim computers, including many that are specific to industrial control systems. That allows it to then encrypt the data that those control system programs interact with. While crude compared to other malware purpose-built for industrial sabotage, that targeting can nonetheless break the software used to monitor infrastructure, like an oil firm’s pipelines or a factory’s robots. That could have potentially dangerous consequences, like preventing staff from remotely monitoring or controlling the equipment’s operation.
EKANS is actually the second ransomware to hit industrial control systems. According to Dragos, another ransomware strain known as Megacortex that first appeared last spring included all of the same industrial control system process-killing features, and may in fact be a predecessor to EKANS developed by the same hackers. But because Megacortex also terminated hundreds of other processes, its industrial-control-system targeted features went largely overlooked.
Speculation is that this is criminal in origin, and not the work of a government.
It’s also the first malware that is named after a Pokémon character.
At the CyberwarCon conference in Arlington, Virginia, on Thursday, Microsoft security researcher Ned Moran plans to present new findings from the company’s threat intelligence group that show a shift in the activity of the Iranian hacker group APT33, also known by the names Holmium, Refined Kitten, or Elfin. Microsoft has watched the group carry out so-called password-spraying attacks over the past year that try just a few common passwords across user accounts at tens of thousands of organizations. That’s generally considered a crude and indiscriminate form of hacking. But over the last two months, Microsoft says APT33 has significantly narrowed its password spraying to around 2,000 organizations per month, while increasing the number of accounts targeted at each of those organizations almost tenfold on average.
The hackers’ motivation—and which industrial control systems they’ve actually breached—remains unclear. Moran speculates that the group is seeking to gain a foothold to carry out cyberattacks with physically disruptive effects. “They’re going after these producers and manufacturers of control systems, but I don’t think they’re the end targets,” says Moran. “They’re trying to find the downstream customer, to find out how they work and who uses them. They’re looking to inflict some pain on someone’s critical infrastructure that makes use of these control systems.”
It’s unclear whether the attackers are causing any actual damage, or just gaining access for some future use.
A water utility in Europe has been infected by cryptocurrency mining software. This is a relatively new attack: hackers compromise computers and force them to mine cryptocurrency for them. This is the first time I’ve seen it infect SCADA systems, though.
It seems that this mining software is benign, and doesn’t affect the performance of the hacked computer. (A smart virus doesn’t kill its host.) But that’s not going to always be the case.
Turns out there’s a lot of vulnerable systems out there:
Many of the two terabytes (2,000 gigabytes) worth of replies Moore received from 310 million IPs indicated that they came from devices vulnerable to well-known flaws, or configured in a way that could to let anyone take control of them.
On Tuesday, Moore published results on a particularly troubling segment of those vulnerable devices: ones that appear to be used for business and industrial systems. Over 114,000 of those control connections were logged as being on the Internet with known security flaws. Many could be accessed using default passwords and 13,000 offered direct access through a command prompt without a password at all.
The new work adds to other significant findings from Moore’s unusual hobby. Results he published in January showed that around 50 million printers, games consoles, routers, and networked storage drives are connected to the Internet and easily compromised due to known flaws in a protocol called Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). This protocol allows computers to automatically find printers, but is also built into some security devices, broadband routers, and data storage systems, and could be putting valuable data at risk.
What’s impressive is how advanced the cyberattack capabilities of the U.S. and/or Israel were back then.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.