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Attacks/Breaches

8/27/2012
04:49 PM
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30,000 Machines Infected In Targeted Attack On Saudi Aramco

Oil company's revelation matches counts by hackers claiming responsibility and Shamoon connection

In what may be the closest sign yet to a public confirmation that this month's targeted attack against Saudi Aramco was actually the malicious Shamoon malware attack, the massive oil company yesterday revealed that 30,000 of its workstations had been infected in the attack -- the same number quoted by the attackers who took responsibility for it and gave a hat tip to the Shamoon research in an online post.

Though Saudi Aramco, Symantec, and Kaspersky Lab won't confirm the connection between Shamoon and the targeted attack on the oil company, other security experts say this could finally be the piece of the puzzle that connects the two, even though the oil company didn't name Shamoon yesterday.

Aviv Raff, co-founder and CTO at Seculert, said Saudi Aramco's statement yesterday appears to be a confirmation that the Shamoon attack was also aimed at Saudi Aramco due to the matching number of attacked machines confirmed by the oil company, as well as the behavior of the malware and timing of the two attacks.

Meantime, one source with knowledge of the attacks told Dark Reading that the attack on Saudi Aramco was, indeed, Shamoon.

In a statement on its website yesterday, Saudi Aramco said its internal resources hit by the attack are now back up and running: "Saudi Aramco has restored all its main internal network services that were impacted on August 15, 2012, by a malicious virus that originated from external sources and affected about 30,000 workstations. The workstations have since been cleaned and restored to service. As a precaution, remote Internet access to online resources was restricted," according to the statement.

The statement also noted that Saudi Aramco was not the only intended target of the attackers, something researchers at Seculert had concluded earlier this month. Seculert says Shamoon targeted "several specific companies in a few industries."

Khalid A. Al-Falih, president and CEO at Saudi Aramco, said in a statement yesterday: "We addressed the threat immediately, and our precautionary procedures, which have been in place to counter such threats, and our multiple protective systems, have helped to mitigate these deplorable cyber threats from spiraling. Saudi Aramco is not the only company that became a target for such attempts, and this was not the first nor will it be the last illegal attempt to intrude into our systems, and we will ensure that we will further reinforce our systems with all available means to protect against a recurrence of this type of cyber-attack."

[ Still no definitive connection between Shamoon and Saudi Aramco breach, but new clues emerge. See Shamoon, Saudi Aramco, And Targeted Destruction. ]

Meanwhile, yet another anonymous Pastebin post appeared today that claims to have committed a second wave of attacks against the oil company not yet publicized, this time dumping what appear to be router passwords pilfered from the company's network, as well as the alleged email and password for CEO Al-Falih. "We think it's funny and weird that there are no news coming out from Saudi Aramco regarding Saturday's night. well, we expect that but just to make it more clear and prove that we're done with we promised, just read the following facts -valuable ones- about the company's systems," the post said in its introduction.

Saudi Aramco first announced that it was hit by a virus on Aug. 15 that led to the shutdown of many of its internal systems. A day later, Symantec revealed its findings on Shamoon, a targeted attack that's all about total annihilation of data, not theft like other targeted attacks. Symantec didn't name the victim of the attack, but did say it was an energy-sector company in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, there were multiple Pastebin posts in the ensuing days by self-professed hackers claiming responsibility for the attacks on Saudi Aramco for reasons of protest. The most telling post referred to Shamoon, saying: "Symantec, McAfee and Kaspersky wrote a detail analysis about the virus, good job," and also claimed to have "completely destroyed" 30,000 clients and servers at the oil company -- the victim machine count that Saudi Aramco has now confirmed.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab previously had spotted a time correlation between the Aramco attack and the date and time found in the Shamoon malcode on Aug. 15.

Just who is behind the attacks remains a mystery, with some fingerpointing at nation/state-sponsored Iranian hacktivists, possibly with some insider help.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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