The US government agencies warned of threat actors that are targeting ICS and SCADA systems from various vendors.
The Department of Energy (DOE), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) published a joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) to warn of offensive capabilities developed by APT actors that could allow them to compromise multiple industrial control system (ICS)/supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices, including:
- Schneider Electric programmable logic controllers (PLCs),
- OMRON Sysmac NEX PLCs, and
- Open Platform Communications Unified Architecture (OPC UA) servers.
According to the advisory that was issued with the help of leading cybersecurity firms (Dragos, Mandiant, Microsoft, Palo Alto Networks, and Schneider Electric), nation-state hacking groups were able to hack multiple industrial systems using a new ICS-focused malware toolkit dubbed PIPEDREAM that was discovered in early 2022.
“APT actors have developed custom-made tools that, once they have established initial access in an OT network, enables them to scan for, compromise, and control certain ICS/SCADA devices” reads the advisory.
“The APT actors’ tools have a modular architecture and enable cyber actors to conduct highly automated exploits against targeted devices. The tools have a virtual console with a command interface that mirrors the interface of the targeted ICS/SCADA device. Modules interact with targeted devices, enabling operations by lower-skilled cyber actors to emulate higher-skilled actor capabilities.”
The toolkit could allow to scan for targeted devices, conduct reconnaissance on device details, upload malicious configuration/code to the targeted device, back up or restore device contents, and modify device parameters.
Threat actors can also leverage a tool to install and exploit a known-vulnerable ASRock-signed motherboard driver (“AsrDrv103.sys“) by triggering the CVE-2020-15368 flaw to execute malicious code in the Windows kernel. The tool could be used to perform lateral movements within an IT or OT environment and interfere with devices’ operation.
Researchers from Dragos shared a detailed analysis of the new PIPEDREAM toolkit confirming that it has yet to be employed in attacks in the wild.
“PIPEDREAM is the seventh known ICS-specific malware. The CHERNOVITE Activity Group (AG) developed PIPEDREAM. PIPEDREAM is a modular ICS attack framework that an adversary could leverage to cause disruption, degradation, and possibly even destruction depending on targets and the environment.” reads the report published by Dragos. “Dragos assesses with high confidence that PIPEDREAM has not yet been employed in the wild for destructive effects. This is a rare case of accessing and analyzing malicious capabilities developed by adversaries before their deployment and gives defenders a unique opportunity to prepare in advance.”
Mandiant, which tack the toolkit as INCONTROLLER, also published a detailed analysis warning of its dangerous cyber attack capability.
“The tools can interact with specific industrial equipment embedded in different types of machinery leveraged across multiple industries. While the targeting of any operational environments using this toolset is unclear, the malware poses a critical risk to organizations leveraging the targeted equipment. INCONTROLLER is very likely state sponsored and contains capabilities related to disruption, sabotage, and potentially physical destruction.” reads the analysis published by Mandiant. “INCONTROLLER represents an exceptionally rare and dangerous cyber attack capability. It is comparable to TRITON, which attempted to disable an industrial safety system in 2017;”
The joint report also included the following recommendations for all organizations with ICS/SCADA devices:
- 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.
- Enforce multifactor authentication for all remote access to ICS networks and devices whenever possible.
- Have a cyber incident response plan, and exercise it regularly with stakeholders in IT, cybersecurity, and operations.
- Change all passwords to ICS/SCADA devices and systems on a consistent schedule, especially all default passwords, to device-unique strong passwords to mitigate password brute force attacks and to give defender monitoring systems opportunities to detect common attacks.
- Maintain known-good offline backups for faster recovery upon a disruptive attack, and conduct hashing and integrity checks on firmware and controller configuration files to ensure validity of those backups.
- Limit ICS/SCADA systems’ network connections to only specifically allowed management and engineering workstations.
- Robustly protect management systems by configuring Device Guard, Credential Guard, and Hypervisor Code Integrity (HVCI). Install Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solutions on these subnets and ensure strong anti-virus file reputation settings are configured.
- Implement robust log collection and retention from ICS/SCADA systems and management subnets.
- Leverage a continuous OT monitoring solution to alert on malicious indicators and behaviors, watching internal systems and communications for known hostile actions and lateral movement. For enhanced network visibility to potentially identify abnormal traffic, consider using CISA’s open-source Industrial Control Systems Network Protocol Parsers (ICSNPP).
- Ensure all applications are only installed when necessary for operation.
- Enforce principle of least privilege. Only use admin accounts when required for tasks, such as installing software updates.
- Investigate symptoms of a denial of service or connection severing, which exhibit as delays in communications processing, loss of function requiring a reboot, and delayed actions to operator comments as signs of potential malicious activity.
- Monitor systems for loading of unusual drivers, especially for ASRock driver if no ASRock driver is normally used on the system.
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