The 2016 attack on Ukraine’s power grid that deprived part of its capital, Kiev, of power for an hour was caused by a cyberattack. ESET researchers have since analyzed samples of malware, detected by ESET as Win32/Industroyer, capable of performing exactly that type of attack.

Industroyer is a particularly dangerous threat, since it is capable of controlling electricity substation switches and circuit breakers directly. To do so, it uses industrial communication protocols used worldwide in power supply infrastructure, transportation control systems, and other critical infrastructure systems (such as water and gas).

These switches and circuit breakers are digital equivalents of analogue switches; technically they can be engineered to perform various functions. Thus, the potential impact may range from simply turning off power distribution, cascading failures and more serious damage to equipment.

Industroyer’s dangerousness lies in the fact that it uses protocols in the way they were designed to be used. The problem is that these protocols were designed decades ago, and back then industrial systems were meant to be isolated from the outside world. Thus, their communication protocols were not designed with security in mind. That means that the attackers didn’t need to be looking for protocol vulnerabilities; all they needed was to teach the malware “to speak” those protocols.

The recent power outage occurred on December 17th, 2016, almost exactly one year after the well-documented cyber attack that caused a blackout that affected around 250,000 households in several regions in Ukraine on December 23rd, 2015.

industroyer_operation-1

Structure and key functionalities

Industroyer is modular malware. Its core component is a backdoor used by attackers to manage the attack: it installs and controls the other components and connects to a remote server to receive commands and to report to the attackers.

What sets Industroyer apart from other malware targeting infrastructure is its use of four payload components, which are designed to gain direct control of switches and circuit breakers at an electricity distribution substation.

Each of these components targets particular communication protocols specified in the following standards: IEC 60870-5-101, IEC 60870-5-104, IEC 61850, and OLE for Process Control Data Access (OPC DA).

The malware contains a few more features that are designed to enable it to remain under the radar, to ensure the malware’s persistence, and to wipe all traces of itself after it has done its job.

industroyer_scheme-1-1024x774

For example, the communication with the C&C servers hidden in Tor can be limited to non-working hours. Also, it employs an additional backdoor – masquerading as the Notepad application – designed to regain access to the targeted network in case the main backdoor is detected and/or disabled.

While in principle it’s difficult to attribute attacks to malware without performing an on-site incident response, it’s highly probable that Industroyer was used in the December 2016 attack on the Ukrainian power grid.

Thanks to its ability to persist in the system and provide valuable information for tuning-up the highly configurable payloads, attackers could adapt the malware to any environment, which makes it extremely dangerous.

For more details read the ESET white paper (PDF).

Source: We Live Security

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