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Analysis of Industrial Control System Security

We are presently experiencing IT/OT convergence, which will reveal new hurdles for both IT and OT divisions to overcome. Site engineers have traditionally overseen operational technology with an emphasis on reliability and stability. However, as OT systems become more integrated, these two worlds must start functioning as a single entity. The panorama of industrial cyber risks changed in 2010. Since Stuxnet targeted crucial supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, which immediately gained attention on a global scale. 

Humans can operate and manage an industrial facility utilizing computer systems employing OT, which consists of programmable logic controllers (PLCs), intelligent electronic devices (IEDs), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and remote terminal units (RTUs). These systems are linked to sensors and devices on the site, which could be a factory or a power plant. 

Industrial control systems are a common name for this set of process control equipment (ICSs). These technologies allow hackers to act based on what they see on the screen, in addition to providing information to them. Operational technologies have always been created with safety and availability in mind, but with relatively minimal care for cyber security. This is a significant contrast between OT and IT. 

Stuxnet: What is it? 

As per reports, Stuxnet influenced countless rotators at Iran's Natanz uranium advancement office to wear out. Afterward, different gatherings modified the infection to explicitly target foundations like gas lines, power stations, and water treatment offices. It is assessed that the US and Israel cooperated to make the malware. 

Industrial facilities have possibly "air-gapped," demonstrating that there is no connection between the organization inside the office and the organizations outside. This postures one of the obstructions in arriving at these regulators. A portion of the world's richer countries has figured out how to get around this countermeasure, regardless. 

 Iran benefited from the assault 

"The attack by Stuxnet opened the world's eyes to the idea that you can now design cyber weapons that can harm real-life target" said Mohammad Al Kayed, director of cyber defense at Black Mountain Cybersecurity. You could gain access to a nation's whole infrastructure and, for instance, turn off the electricity. In just this manner, Russia has twice attacked Ukraine.

Iran gained from the hack that the appropriate tool stash can likely be utilized to target ICS. It likewise noticed the power of those assaults. Somewhere in the range of 2012 and 2018, specialists saw an ascent in cyberattacks against Saudi Arabian modern offices as well as those of different nations nearby. 

"A virus program called Shamoon was one example. Three distinct waves of the virus have struck Saudi Arabian industrial facilities. The original version affected a few other businesses and Saudi Aramco. In a few years, two new variants were released. All of them exploited Saudi Arabian petrochemical firms and the oil and gas sector" stated Al Kayed. Saudi Arabia was a target since it has numerous manufacturing plants and sizable oil production operations. It is Iran's rival in the area and a political superpower. 

Connecting OT and IT invites vulnerability

When ICS is connected to an IT network, hacks on those systems are even simpler. By exploiting the IT network first, malicious actors can remotely attack OT assets. All they need to do is send an expert or employee who isn't paying attention to a phishing email. When industrial control systems are connected to an IT network, attacks on those systems are even easier. 

Al Kayed proceeds, "Anybody can bounce into designing workstations and other PC frameworks inside a modern site. Now that they understand how one can remotely put the malware on such modern control frameworks. Although they don't at first need to think twice about designing workstations at the office, there is a method for doing so because it is connected to the corporate organization, which is in this manner connected to the web. You can move between gadgets until you show up at the ideal design workstation in the petrochemical complicated or the power plant. "

Saudi government takes measures 

The targeted nation can acquire the necessary skills, possibly repair the weapon used against it, and then go after another target. Saudi Arabia, which has numerous manufacturing plants, is the nation in the area with the main threat on its front. Therefore it makes sense that the Iranians exploited what they had learned to strike its strongest rival in the region. 

However, the Saudi government is acting to stop similar attacks from occurring again. The National Cyber Security Authority (NCA) created a collection of legislation known as the Essential Cybersecurity Controls (ECC), which are required cyber security controls, to stop the attack type mentioned above. One of the only nations in the area having a security program that goes beyond IT systems is Saudi Arabia right now. It has also taken into account the dangers to OT infrastructure. 

Guidelines for ICS security 

The protection of industrial control systems is currently a global priority. A thorough set of recommendations for defending industrial technology against cyber security risks was released in 2015 by the US National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Four important lessons can be learned from the attack on Iran and the ensuing attacks on Saudi Arabia:

  • The first step is to separate OT from IT networks. 
  • Utilize an industrial intrusion detection and prevention system and anti-malware software. 
  • The main targets of attacks on OT networks are HMIs and PLCs. Use specialized technologies, such as data diodes, which accomplish what a network firewall accomplishes logically but in a physical way.
  • Monitoring is a crucial step: "Security monitoring" is a frequent IT practice. But not many OT facilities do that currently.

European Oil Port Hubs Hit by a Cyberattack

 

Hamburg, a major port part of northern Germany, was targeted by the cyberattack, as were at least six oil ports in Belgium and the Netherlands. Prosecutors in Belgium have opened an inquiry into the theft of oil supplies in the country's marine entryways, particlarly Antwerp which also happens to be Europe's second-largest port after Rotterdam.

Prosecutors in Germany are said to be looking into a cyberattack on oil facilities which are described as a probable ransomware attack, wherein hackers demand money in exchange for reopening captured networks. 

Last month, oil prices reached a seven-year high amid geopolitical tensions with Russia, and rising energy costs are fueling an increase in costs which has alarmed European authorities. 

"A cyberattack was launched against several terminals, causing significant disruption. The software has been taken over, which is unable to process barges. The operating system is basically down "Jelle Vreeman, a senior trader at Riverlake in Rotterdam, echoed this sentiment.

Europol, the EU's police agency, confirmed the information of the events in Germany had given assistance to authorities. "At this time, the investigation is underway and in a critical stage," said Claire Georges, a spokesman for Europol. 

Last week, the first signs of what looks to be a complex cyberattack were revealed in Germany; on January 29, Oiltranking Group and Mabanaft were found to be the victims of a cyber-attack. 

Belgian authorities were also looking into the incident, which impacted terminals in Ghent and Antwerp-Zeebrugge. In Amsterdam, Ghent, Antwerp, SEA-Tank, Oiltanking, and Evos are all reporting faults with the operating systems. 

Oiltanking Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG, a company that stores and delivers oil, motor fuels, and other petroleum products, announced its website was being hacked. According to the company, it was compelled to function at "restricted efficiency" and was conducting an investigation. The intrusion on Oiltanking was caused by ransomware, which encrypts data and renders computer systems is useless until a ransom is paid.

Following a ransomware attack on US oil distributor Colonial Pipeline in May of last year, supplies were tightened across the US, prompting various states to declare an emergency. However, cyber-security experts warn against assuming many events are part of a coordinated campaign to destabilize the European energy industry. 

"Some varieties of malware harvest emails and contact information and use it to actively spam dangerous attachments or links," said Brett Callow, Threat Researcher at cyber-security firm Emsisoft. While investigating the degree of the infiltration, the organizations report taking steps to rectify the situation and strengthen the network.

USD 50 Million Ransom Demanded from Saudi Aramco Over Leaked Data

 

Saudi Arabia's state oil firm admitted on Wednesday that data from the corporation was leaked and that the files are now being used in a cyber-extortion effort including a USD 50 million ransom demand. The data was presumably leaked by one of the company's contractors. Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., notified The Associated Press that it "recently became aware of the indirect release of a limited amount of company data which was held by third-party contractors."

Saudi Aramco is a public Saudi Arabian oil and gas enterprise headquartered in Dhahran. It is expected to be one of the world's most profitable corporations as of 2020. Saudi Aramco has the world's second-biggest proven crude oil reserves, with about 270 billion barrels (43 billion cubic metres), as well as the world's greatest daily oil production. 

The Master Gas System, operated by Saudi Aramco, is the world's biggest single hydrocarbon network. It handles about one hundred oil and gas fields in Saudi Arabia, including 288.4 trillion standard cubic feet (scf) of natural gas reserves, and its crude oil production totaled 3.4 billion barrels (540 million cubic metres) in 2013. The Ghawar Field, the world's largest onshore oil field, and the Safaniya Field, the world's largest offshore oil field, are both operated by Saudi Aramco. 

The oil company did not specify which contractor was affected, nor did it clarify whether the contractor was hacked or if the information was released in some other way. "We confirm that the release of data was not due to a breach of our systems, has no impact on our operations and the company continues to maintain a robust cybersecurity posture," Aramco said. 

The AP found a page on the darknet, a section of the internet kept behind an encrypted network and accessible only through specific anonymity-providing tools, that claimed the extortionist had 1 terabyte of Aramco data. The page offered Aramco the chance to have the data destroyed for USD 50 million in cryptocurrency, with a countdown counting down from USD 5 million, most likely to put pressure on the corporation. It's still unknown who's behind the ransom plot. 

Aramco has previously been the victim of cyber-attacks. The so-called Shamoon computer virus, which destroyed hard drives and then flashed a picture of a burning American flag on computer displays, affected the oil behemoth in 2012. Aramco was compelled to shut down its network and destroy over 30,000 machines as a result of the attack. Later, US officials blamed the strike on Iran, whose nuclear enrichment programme had just been targeted by the Stuxnet virus, which was most likely created by the US and Israel.

Oil & Gas Targeted in Year-Long Cyber-Espionage Campaign

 

A sophisticated campaign aimed at big multinational oil and gas firms has been running for more than a year, spreading common remote access trojans (RATs) for cyber-espionage objectives, as per researchers. 

According to Intezer analysis, spear-phishing emails with malicious links are used to deploy RATs such as Agent Tesla, AZORult, Formbook, Loki, and Snake Keylogger on infected computers all with the goal of stealing confidential data, banking information, and browser information, as well as logging keyboard strokes. 

While energy corporations are the primary targets, the campaign has also targeted a few companies in the IT, industrial, and media industries, as per researchers. Its targets are primarily based in South Korea, but include companies from the United States, United Arab Emirates, and Germany, too. 

The report states, “The attack also targets oil and gas suppliers, possibly indicating that this is only the first stage in a wider campaign. In the event of a successful breach, the attacker could use the compromised email account of the recipient to send spear-phishing emails to companies that work with the supplier, thus using the established reputation of the supplier to go after more targeted entities.” 

According to Intezer, “The company is FEBC, a religious Korean Christian radio broadcaster that reaches other countries outside of South Korea, many of these countries which downplay or ban religion. One of FEBC’s goals is to subvert the religion ban in North Korea.” 

Modus Operandi of the Attack:

According to analysts, the attackers launch the attack by sending emails customized to the staff at each of the companies targeted. The email addresses of the recipients range from basic (info@target company[.]com, sales@target company[.]com) to particular persons inside organizations, implying various levels of reconnaissance. 

The email addresses used in the "From" box are typo squatted or forged to provide the impression of authenticity. They are designed to seem like emails from real organizations that the targets are familiar with. Typosquatting fools email recipients into believing that an email has been sent from a trusted entity. 

“The contents and sender of the emails are made to look like they are being sent from another company in the relevant industry offering a business partnership or opportunity,” according to Intezer. 

Other attempts to appear official include making references to executives and utilizing the physical addresses, logos, and emails of genuine organizations in the text of the emails. As per the posting, these also contain requests for quotes (RFQ), contracts, and referrals/tenders for genuine projects linked to the targeted company's business. 

The file name and icon of the attachment in the majority of these emails seem like a PDF. Intezar experts stated the goal is to make the file appear less suspicious, entice the targeted user to open and read it. An information stealer is executed when the victim opens the attachment and clicks on the files it contains. 

Intezer also highlighted that the malware's execution is fileless, meaning it is loaded into memory without generating a file on disc, in order to avoid detection by standard antivirus. 

A Social-Engineering Bonanza: 

According to experts, while the technological parts of the operation are pretty standard, cyber attackers excel when it comes to social engineering and completing their study on their targets. 

One email, for example, claimed to be from Hyundai Engineering and mentioned an actual combined cycle power plant project in Panama. The email instructs the recipient to submit a bid for the project's equipment supply and includes more data and requirements "in the attached file" (containing the malware). In addition, the communication specifies a firm deadline for proposal submissions. 

Another email examined by Intezer researchers was sent to an employee of GS E&C, a Korean contractor involved in a number of worldwide power plant projects. The email requested both technical and commercial proposals for the goods listed in the attached, which was ostensibly a material take-off (MTO) document. 

Researchers stated, “The content of the emails demonstrates that the threat actor is well-versed in business-to-business (B2B) correspondence. This extra effort made by the attacker is likely to increase the credibility of the emails and lure victims into opening the malicious attachments.”