Hackers Plan Attacks On Key US Industrial Control Systems

Hackers have developed new custom tools to gain full system access to a number of industrial control system (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices, according to the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). 

The Department of Energy, US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the NSA, and FBI urged critical infrastructure operators to upgrade the security of these devices and networks in a joint cyber security advisory notice. 

"The APT actors have developed custom-made tools for targeting ICS/SCADA devices," the multiple US agencies said in an alert. "The tools enable them to scan for, compromise, and control affected devices once they have established initial access to the operational technology (OT) network." the notice said. 

One of the cyber security firms involved, Mandiant, said in a report that the tools’ functionality was “consistent with the malware used in Russia’s prior physical attacks” though it acknowledged that the evidence linking it to Moscow is “largely circumstantial”.

This warning states that certain advanced persistent threat actors have developed new custom tools that have the capability to gain full system access to multiple industrial control system (ICS)/supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices, including:   

  • OMRON Sysmac NEX PLCs
  • Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) servers.

The custom tools are designed to target programmable logic controllers from large companies such as Schneider Electric. CISA says the tools allow for "highly automated exploits" against targeted devices,  although CISA does say there is a low risk that the tools will lead to highly automated exploits against devices in the critical infrastructure sector being targeted. 

The agencies are urging organisations to "isolate ICS/SCADA systems and networks from corporate and Internet networks using strong perimeter controls, and limit any communications entering or leaving ICS/SCADA perimeters."  They also recommend using multi-factor authentication for remote access to ICS networks and devices, to change all passwords to them regularly, and remove all default passwords.   

Security firm Dragos, which specialises in ICS, has named one of the new custom tools 'Pipedream' and say this is the seventh such ICS specific malware they have seen. Dragos has traced the tool back to an advanced persistent threat actor called Chevronite. Mandiant has named the malware INCONTROLLER after working with Schneider Electric to analyse it.

The government agencies are urging critical infrastructure organisations, particularly those in the energy sector, to put in place recommended detection and mitigation processes, including using strong perimeter controls to isolate ICS and SCADA system and networks from corporate and Internet networks and limit communications entering or leaving those perimeters. They also recommend using multifactor authentication for remote access to ICS networks and devices.

Along with isolating ICS and SCADA systems and leveraging multifactor authentication, the US agencies also are recommending such steps as having a cyber-incident plan in place. Also, they advise users to change all passwords and use strong passwords, maintain backups, implementing strong log collection and retention from ICS and SCADA systems and ensuring that applications are installed only when necessary for operation. 

CISA:    Reuters:      InfoSec Today:     Guardian:     Oodaloop:     ZDNet:     The Register:   The Hackers News:

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