October 1, 2023

Over the previous few years state-sponsored attackers have been ramping up their capabilities of hitting important infrastructure like energy grids to trigger critical disruptions. A brand new addition to this arsenal is a malware toolkit that appears to have been developed for red-teaming workouts by a Russian cybersecurity firm.

Dubbed COSMICENERGY by researchers from Mandiant, the malware can work together with distant terminal items (RTUs) and different operational know-how (OT) units that talk over the specialised IEC 60870-5-104 (IEC-104) protocol and are generally used for electrical engineering and energy automation.

“COSMICENERGY is the newest instance of specialised OT malware able to inflicting cyber bodily impacts, that are not often found or disclosed,” the Mandian researchers stated in their report. “Evaluation into the malware and its performance reveals that its capabilities are corresponding to these employed in earlier incidents and malware, resembling INDUSTROYER and INDUSTROYER.V2, which had been each malware variants deployed prior to now to impression electrical energy transmission and distribution through IEC-104.”

Crimson workforce framework impressed by previous assaults

INDUSTROYER, often known as Crashoverride, is a malware program that was utilized in 2016 in opposition to the Ukrainian energy grid and left a fifth of Kyiv, the nation’s capital, with out energy for one hour. The malware reached RTUs on the OT community through MS-SQL servers that acted as information historians, then issued ON/OFF instructions through the IEC-104 to impression energy line switches and circuit breakers.

INDUSTROYER’s creation and use is attributed to Sandworm, an APT group that is believed to be a cyberwar unit throughout the GRU, Russia’s navy intelligence service. In 2022, Sandworm tried one other assault in opposition to Ukraine’s energy grid utilizing an up to date model of the malware dubbed INDUSTROYER.V2.

The brand new COSMICENERGY toolkit discovered by Mandiant was uploaded to a public malware scanning service in December 2021 by somebody in Russia. An evaluation of the code means that it was created for crimson workforce workouts hosted by a Russian cybersecurity firm known as Rostelecom-Photo voltaic that has ties to the Russian authorities.

“Though we have now not recognized adequate proof to find out the origin or goal of COSMICENERGY, we consider that the malware was probably developed by both Rostelecom-Photo voltaic or an related get together to recreate actual assault eventualities in opposition to vitality grid belongings,” the researchers stated. “It’s doable that the malware was used to help workouts resembling those hosted by Rostelecom-Photo voltaic in 2021 in collaboration with the Russian Ministry of Power or in 2022 for the St. Petersburg’s Worldwide Financial Discussion board (SPIEF).”

Rostelecom-Photo voltaic has obtained funding from the Russian authorities to coach cybersecurity consultants and conduct electrical energy disruption and emergency response workouts. A module within the malware toolkit comprises a reference to Photo voltaic Polygon and searchers for this time period tie it to Rostelecom-Photo voltaic.

In keeping with Mandiant, regardless of its obvious ties to crimson workforce workouts, the chance exists that this malware toolkit has or may be repurposed for real-world assaults, together with by Russian nation-state actors which have used non-public contractors earlier than to develop instruments.

Manually deployed two-component malware payload

COSMICENERGY is made up of two parts — one written in Python and one in C++. The Python-based element, which Mandiant has dubbed PIEHOP, is designed to hook up with MS-SQL servers and add recordsdata or challenge instructions. As soon as related, it deploys the second element dubbed LIGHTWORK which is designed to challenge ON and OFF instructions to related RTUs through IEC-104 over TCP.

“It crafts configurable IEC-104 Utility Service Information Unit (ASDU) messages, to alter the state of RTU Data Object Addresses (IOAs) to ON or OFF,” the researchers stated. “LIGHTWORK makes use of positional command line arguments for goal machine, port, and IEC-104 command.”

The IOAs correlate with inputs and outputs on RTUs, which relying on configuration and deployment may map to related circuit breakers or energy line switches. Nonetheless, the IOAs mappings can differ between totally different RTU producers, particular person units and even environments, in accordance with Mandiant, which implies the attackers have to have pre-existing reconnaissance details about the deployment they’re concentrating on. The analyzed LIGHTWORK pattern had eight hard-coded IOAs, however it’s arduous to find out what was the attackers’ intention when issuing instructions to them with out data of the precise focused belongings.

Moreover, the PIEHOP element and the malware itself have no community discovery capabilities inbuilt, which implies that attackers have to have already got details about the focused MSSQL servers and RTUs, resembling credentials and IP addresses, to deploy the parts efficiently. This makes it a post-intrusion toolkit.

Whereas COSMICENERGY would not share any code with earlier OT malware instruments, it does borrow methods from a number of of them, except for INDUSTROYER: Using Python for OT malware growth has additionally been noticed with IRONGATE and TRITON; using open-source libraries that implement proprietary OT protocols and decrease the bar for creating such threats; and the abuse of protocols which might be insecure by design resembling IEC-104 and lack authentication or encryption mechanisms.

mitigate and detect COSMICENERGY

Whereas there isn’t any proof that COSMICENERGY has been utilized in assaults within the wild, the chance can’t be discounted and on the very least it might probably function inspiration for different OT malware builders, similar to INDUSTROYER served as inspiration for its creators.

The Mandiant report comprises indicators of compromise and file hashes, however the firm additionally recommends that organizations conduct energetic menace searching:

  • Set up assortment and aggregation of host-based logs for crown jewels techniques resembling human-machine interfaces (HMI), engineering workstations (EWS), and OPC consumer servers inside their environments and assessment logs for the proof of Python script or unauthorized code execution on these techniques.
  • Establish and examine the creation, switch, and/or execution of unauthorized Python-packaged executables (e.g., PyInstaller or Py2Exe) on OT techniques or techniques with entry to OT assets.
  • Monitor techniques with entry to OT assets for the creation of reputable short-term folders, recordsdata, artifacts, and exterior libraries required as proof of the execution of packaged Python scripts, eg. the creation of a short lived “_MEIPASS” PyInstaller folder.
  • Monitor MSSQL Servers with entry to OT techniques and networks for proof of: reconnaissance and enumeration exercise of MSSQL servers and credentials, unauthorized community connections to MSSQL servers (TCP/1433) and irregular or unauthorized authentication, enablement and utilization of SQL prolonged saved procedures for Home windows shell command execution and the switch, creation, staging, and decoding of base64 encoded executables.

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