Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

2/15/2019
01:30 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

ICS/SCADA Attackers Up Their Game

With attackers operating more aggressively and stealthily, some industrial network operators are working to get a jump on the threats.

The bad news: Attacks aimed at industrial sites have become more aggressive over the past year. The good news: Some industrial control systems (ICS) operators increasingly are taking more proactive defensive measures to thwart cyberattacks on their networks.

"The threats are getting worse," says Robert M. Lee, CEO and co-founder of Dragos, whose company this week published its annual findings on ICS threats and engagements with its industrial clients in 2018. "But people are being really proactive about this. And maybe it's not communitywide and we have to reach more, but you've got some real forward-leaning companies that are pushed into the right direction."

In nearly 40% of the incident response (IR) engagements conducted by Dragos in 2018, the attacker had been inside the network for more than a year. About one-fourth of its IR engagements were to determine whether a cyberattack was the cause of an outage or other event.

"We're seeing major industrial instances today that are at least asking the question" of whether it was a cyberattack, Lee notes. "And that is a major step forward for those players."

Even so, only about 20% to 30% of ICS organizations in North America today use real-time network monitoring to detect and thwart attacks, according to Lee. That's the main security best practice recommended for ICS/SCADA organizations, and North America is actually ahead of other regions in adopting it.

Most of Dragos' client work in 2018 was for proactive threat hunting and better mapping of network infrastructures: Thirty-three percent of all engagements were IR cases, while the rest were mainly threat analysis, assessments, and some tabletop exercises.

IT-OT Weak Link
One of the easiest ways to infiltrate an industrial network is via its IT infrastructure, and that's a common initial attack vector. Gaining a foothold via a successful phish and user account compromise, for example, gives the attacker a better shot at gaining access to systems on the ICS network.

"Not much has changed in the last year" in ICS attack trends, says David Weinstein, vice president of threat research at industrial security firm Claroty. "In the past two to three years, we've seen attackers take advantage of exploiting the OT-IT convergence ... it's most efficient to leverage IT to get to OT, which wasn't always the case. In the past, things were more isolated."

Dragos' Lee says his firm sees more hacking teams than ever targeting industrial networks. "We're seeing wider sets of data, tradecraft, and lots more victims."

The biggest shift is their using so-called "living off the land" methods, though not in the same way attackers operate in IT networks. It's not their using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)-type attacks, for example, but instead employing native industrial protocols, Lee says. "These are things enterprise security would not detect," he says.

Most of the ICS threat groups Dragos tracks use these types of camouflaging methods, and they also are beginning to employ legitimate penetration testing tools like Mimikatz, Metasploit, and PowerShell Empire.

Ongoing Patching Conundrum
Meanwhile, to patch or not to patch remains the big question for many industrial organizations as the number of ICS vulnerability discoveries and patches rose last year. Unlike in IT, applying a patch to an OT system can sometimes be more destructive and riskier than forgoing the update if it disrupts operations.

"You have to have an understanding of how adversaries are using these [vulns] and have a risk-based [patching] approach," Lee notes.

Dragos analyzed some 204 public ICS vulnerabilities in 2018 and found that 82% had no direct interaction with an ICS system. Lee says that's because most vulnerability research isn't focused on ICS system vulns. Some 34% of network-exploitable flaws patched disclosed last year were ICS-based; the rest were typical IT protocols, like HTTP and FTP. Lee says that's likely because of a lack of ICS knowledge by researchers, as well as a lack of tools for testing ICS protocols.

But big picture-wise, more than half of the vulns found last year in ICS systems could be used for dangerous cyber activity: "They could be leveraged for loss of view and control," Lee says. Dragos also found that much of the mitigation advice in the vuln advisories was insufficient or outright inaccurate.

Reality Check
Some 72% of ICS vulnerability advisories in 2018 encompassed engineering workstation systems, human machine interfaces (HMIs), and industrial networking components, according to Dragos' data. And those findings are a bit redundant, according to its analysis, because they already are easy marks without employing exploits.

"Most of these protocols are insecure by design," Lee explains. "If the vulnerability is giving me privilege escalation on an HMI, why should I care when the default state of the HMI is already running in admin mode ... the vulnerability [there] never needs to be used by the adversary."

Related Content:

 

 

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop 2019. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop agenda here.

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
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 10/27/2020
Modern Day Insider Threat: Network Bugs That Are Stealing Your Data
David Pearson, Principal Threat Researcher,  10/21/2020
Are You One COVID-19 Test Away From a Cybersecurity Disaster?
Alan Brill, Senior Managing Director, Cyber Risk Practice, Kroll,  10/21/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-27956
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-28
An Arbitrary File Upload in the Upload Image component in SourceCodester Car Rental Management System 1.0 allows the user to conduct remote code execution via admin/index.php?page=manage_car because .php files can be uploaded to admin/assets/uploads/ (under the web root).
CVE-2020-27957
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-28
The RandomGameUnit extension for MediaWiki through 1.35 was not properly escaping various title-related data. When certain varieties of games were created within MediaWiki, their names or titles could be manipulated to generate stored XSS within the RandomGameUnit extension.
CVE-2020-16140
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-27
The search functionality of the Greenmart theme 2.4.2 for WordPress is vulnerable to XSS.
CVE-2020-9982
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-27
This issue was addressed with improved checks to prevent unauthorized actions. This issue is fixed in Apple Music 3.4.0 for Android. A malicious application may be able to leak a user's credentials.
CVE-2020-3855
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-27
An access issue was addressed with improved access restrictions. This issue is fixed in macOS Catalina 10.15.3, Security Update 2020-001 Mojave, Security Update 2020-001 High Sierra. A malicious application may be able to overwrite arbitrary files.