Triton malware targets oil and gas assets in the Middle East

Cyber security firm responds to ICS Attack framework dubbed Triton

The safety systems for industrial control units used in nuclear, oil and gas plants, halting operations on Triconex industrial safety technology, was hacked yesterday, according to security firm FireEye. "The attacker could have caused a process shutdown by issuing a halt command or intentionally uploading flawed code to the SIS controller to cause it to fail", FireEye researchers said.

In what's being called a "watershed" attack, hackers likely working for a nation-state tapped into the system of a large facility and stalled its output.

"FireEye has not connected this activity to any actor we now track; however, we assess with moderate confidence that the actor is sponsored by a nation state", researchers say.

Hackers who may have been working on behalf of a nation recently caused an operational outage at a critical-infrastructure site, researchers said Thursday. "Never leave the front panel key position in the "Program" mode when not actively configuring the controller", Schneider Electric wrote in an advisory.

'Triton is a serious threat to critical infrastructure systems on par with the likes of Stuxnet and Industroyer because it specifically targets industrial control systems with the capability to cause physical damage or shutdown operations.

Previous strains of ICS (Industrial Control Systems) malware used in live attacks include the likes of Industroyer and BlackEnergy (deployed in Ukraine), Sandworm (deployed in the US), and Stuxnet (deployed in Iran).

Considering that an SIS system monitors the status of industrial processes and brings a process back into a safe state after it reaches a hazardous state, compromising an organisation's SIS system means compromising its performance as a whole and creating a crisis situation.

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In this edition of "Incident of the Week", we examine a reported attack that recently disabled operations in a critical infrastructure plant.

Nevertheless, Triton provides hackers a blueprint on how to go about attacking critical infrastructure.

TRITON was used to modify application memory on SIS controllers in the environment, which could have led to a failed validation check.

"Triton is one of a limited number of publicly identified malicious software families targeted at industrial control systems (ICS)", said the firm. According to FireEye, the hackers behind the malware are likely state-sponsored. "While these attempts appear to have failed due [to] one of the attack scripts' conditional checks, the attacker persisted with their efforts".

The attacker targeted the SIS suggesting an interest in causing a high-impact attack with physical consequences.

"The targeting of critical infrastructure as well as the attacker's persistence, lack of any clear monetary goal and the technical resources necessary to create the attack framework suggest a well-resourced nation state actor", the researchers said.

The researchers said the attackers were well-prepared, noting that the Triton framework tool would have required reverse engineering the proprietary TriStation protocol, and the attack took was already built and tested before putting it into use. Researchers at antivirus provider Symantec also provided a brief analysis here.

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