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Woburn, MA – May 28, 2020 — In early 2020, a series of targeted attacks on industrial organizations in various regions was reported. According to the latest Kaspersky ICS CERT findings, these hits were focused on systems in Japan, Italy, German and the UK and targeted suppliers of equipment and software for industrial enterprises. Research has shown that attackers used malicious Microsoft Office documents, PowerShell scripts and several other techniques to make it difficult to detect and analyze their malware. One such technique is steganography, a data-hiding technology that conceals messages within digital files.
Targeted attacks on industrial objects organically attract attention from the cybersecurity community as they are sophisticated and focused on sectors that are of critical value. Any disruption in the continuity of work can lead to unwanted consequences from successful industrial espionage to comprehensive financial losses.
This examined series of attacks was no exception. Phishing emails, used as the initial attack vector, were tailored and customized under the specific language for each specific victim. The malware used in this attack performed destructive activity only if the operating system had a localization that matched the language used in the phishing email. For example, in the case of an attack on a company from Japan, the text of a phishing email and a Microsoft Office document containing a malicious macro were written in Japanese. Also, to successfully decrypt the malware module, the operating system must have had a Japanese localization.
Closer analysis has shown that attackers used the Mimikatz utility to steal the authentication data of Windows accounts stored on a compromised system. This information can be used by attackers to gain access to other systems within the enterprise network and develop attacks. This is particularly dangerous when attackers gain access to accounts that have domain administrator rights.
Scheme of attack in details
In all detected cases, the malware was blocked by Kaspersky security solutions which prevented the attackers from continuing their activity. As a result, the ultimate goal of the criminals remains unknown. Kaspersky ICS CERT experts continue to monitor new, similar cases. If an organization encounters such an attack, it can be reported by using this special form on the Kaspersky website.
“This attack attracted attention due to several, non-standard technical solutions used by the attackers,” said Vyacheslav Kopeytsev, a security expert at Kaspersky. “For instance, the malware module is encoded inside the image using steganography methods, and the image itself is hosted on legitimate web resources. This makes it almost impossible to detect the download of such malware using network traffic monitoring and control tools. From the point of view of technical solutions, such activity does not differ from the usual access given to legitimate image hosting. Coupled with the targeted nature of infections, these techniques indicate the sophisticated and selective nature of these attacks. It is a matter of concern that industrial contractors are among the victims of the attack. If the authentication data of employees of the contractor organization falls into malicious hands, this can lead to many negative consequences, starting with the theft of confidential data and ending with attacks on industrial enterprises through remote administration tools used by the contractor.”
“The attack on contractors once again demonstrates that for electric power facilities to be operated reliably, it is critically important to ensure workstations and servers are protected – both on corporate and operational technology networks,” comments Anton Shipulin, solution business lead, Kaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity. “Although strong endpoint protection may be enough to prevent similar attacks, in this case, we still recommend using the most comprehensive approach to support the industrial facility’s cyber-defense. Attacks through contractors and suppliers can have completely different entry points within the enterprise, including ones on the OT network. Even though the attack’s objectives remained unclear, it is more accurate to follow the assumption that attackers have the potential to gain access to the facility’s critical systems. Modern means of network monitoring, anomaly and attack detection can help to detect signs of an attack on industrial control systems and equipment in a timely manner, and prevent a possible incident."
To reduce the risks of being attacked, industrial organizations are advised to:
To read the full version of the report, please visit Kaspersky ICS CERT.
About Kaspersky ICS CERT
Kaspersky Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (Kaspersky ICS CERT) is a global project launched by Kaspersky in 2016 to coordinate the efforts of automation system vendors, industrial facility owners and operators, and IT security researchers to protect industrial enterprises from cyberattacks. Kaspersky ICS CERT devotes its efforts primarily to identifying potential and existing threats that target industrial automation systems and the Industrial Internet of Things. Kaspersky ICS CERT is an active member and partner of leading international organizations that develop recommendations on protecting industrial enterprises from cyberthreats. ics-cert.kaspersky.com
Kaspersky is a global cybersecurity company founded in 1997. Kaspersky’s deep threat intelligence and security expertise is constantly transforming into innovative security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe. The company’s comprehensive security portfolio includes leading endpoint protection and a number of specialized security solutions and services to fight sophisticated and evolving digital threats. Over 400 million users are protected by Kaspersky technologies and we help 270,000 corporate clients protect what matters most to them. Learn more at usa.kaspersky.com.