S4x17 CONFERENCE – Miami, Fla. – All eyes may be on Russian and other nation-state hacking threats to power grids and other critical infrastructure facilities, but ransomware is already disrupting plants and, in at least one case, causing a power outage.
In January of 2016, a small energy firm that provides services to commercial and residential customers was hit with the Samsam ransomware variant that temporarily knocked out power to its power clients. "The adversary found a vulnerable Web server, compromised it, and did normal privilege escalation and uploaded additional malware, and [the malware] propagated," says Mark Stacey, a member of RSA's incident response team.
The attackers demanded one Bitcoin per infected system, or $400, and the energy provider paid one Bitcoin, and was able to obtain the decryption key. "They gave us an image [of the infected system] and … the decryption failed," says Stacey, who will present the case study here today but not name the energy firm client.
The good news: the energy company had the proper backups and was able to restore most of its data after its servers were down for two days, and the attackers weren't savvy enough to also infect the backup systems nor to include error-checking in their encryption and decryption code.
It could have been much worse. "A growing trend of ransomware is to have a proof-of-concept sit dormant on the network checking for file transfer to identify backup servers before it executes," Stacey says.
The firm was vulnerable to the ransomware attack — and any malware attack, for that matter —because it didn't have a DMZ separating its IT and industrial networks.
Marcelo Branquinho, CEO and founder of Brazil-based ICS/SCADA security firm TI Safe, says he sees ransomware infections regularly when visiting ICS/SCADA sites in Brazil, mostly in their corporate networks, but also in their ICS networks.
"We now see a lot of ransomware because people know how to get money for it. That's the big change," says Branquinho, who will detail two cases of ransomware in industrial sites in Brazil.
He points to a furniture factory in Goais, Brazil, which in August of 2015 lost its customer and supplier information and payroll to a ransomware attack via RSA-4096 ransomware. "They didn't pay" the $3,000 ransom, and were offline for 15 days, he says. "They lost $100,000" in production due to the outage, which was featured on Brazilian television.
A large electric company located in southern Brazil recently was hit with the infamous CryptoLocker. Four of its Windows 7-based supervisory station servers were infected via a USB drive on one HMI, he says, but the firm didn't have to pay ransom nor did they lose any data. "They had a second control center" as a mirrored backup, he says, so they triggered that control center to take over while they cleaned up the infected one, there was no interruption to power generation.
But such built-in redundancy is rare in Brazil, he says. "This is an exception in Brazil. Only five- to 10% of companies have a second control center ready to operate," Branquinho says.
Branquinho, who will detail the two ransomware cases in Brazil in a presentation here today, says in two years, he expects to see ransomware attacks on programmable logic controllers (PLCs). He says there are plenty of cybercriminals specializing in ransomware in Brazil.
The bottom line with ransomware, of course, is mainly the bottom line: it's a easy way to monetize a cyberattack.
RSA's Stacey says ransomware attacks on industrial systems have the potential to be lucrative for attackers. In hospitals or other critical operations, ransomware attacks locking organizations out of their data can be catastrophic and result in the loss of life, he says. "ICS falls into that [category]. Very few people want to destroy a dam … to a certain degree, the equipment that opens it is not that valuable. But if you take that data away, the [victim] is willing to pay for it," he says. "ICS [ransomware] has the potential to be catastrophic."
Meanwhile, Stacey says he hasn't seen nation-states employing ransomware so far, but it's only a matter of time. "Nation-states could use ransomware to cover their tracks if they want to get into a network and persist," he says.
Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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