Move over, Stuxnet: Industroyer malware linked to Kiev blackouts

Modular nasty can seize direct control of substation switches and circuit breakers


Security researchers have discovered malware capable of disrupting industrial control processes.

Industroyer can cause the same sort of damage as BlackEnergy, a malware strain blamed for attacks on energy firms that caused blackouts in Ukraine in December 2015. The malware may have featured in follow-up attacks last December and can significantly harm electric power systems. It could be refitted to target other types of critical infrastructure, according to security firm ESET.

Industroyer is a particularly dangerous threat, since it is capable of controlling electricity substation switches and circuit breakers directly. To do so, it uses industrial communication protocols used worldwide in power supply infrastructure, transportation control systems, and other critical infrastructure systems (water, gas).

These switches and circuit breakers are digital equivalents of analogue switches; technically they can be engineered to perform various functions. Thus, the potential impact may range from simply turning off power distribution, cascading failures, to more serious damage to equipment, and may vary from one substation to another.

Industroyer is modular. Its core component is a backdoor used to manage the attack: it installs and controls the other components and connects to a remote server to receive commands and report back to the attackers.

Industroyer industrial control malware

The unknown authors of the malware are familiar with industrial control systems. Industroyer uses inherent security weaknesses, rather than vulnerabilities as such, to spread.

The malware bundles features designed to remain under the radar, ensure persistence, and wipe traces of itself after completing the job. Another module is a denial-of-service tool that exploits the CVE-2015-5374 vulnerability in Siemens SIPROTECT devices and render targeted devices unresponsive. It also contains a wiper component. ESET's researchers describe the malware as the most sophisticated to hit industrial control systems since Stuxnet, the Iranian nuclear centrifuge crashing cyber-weapon.

Industroyer is highly customisable malware. While being universal, in that it can be used to attack any industrial control system using some of the targeted communication protocols, some of the components in analyzed samples were designed to target particular hardware. For example, the wiper component and one of the payload components are tailored for use against systems incorporating certain industrial power control products by ABB, and the DoS component works specifically against Siemens SIPROTECT devices used in electrical substations and other related fields of application.

While in principle it's difficult to attribute attacks to malware without performing an on-site incident response, it's highly probable that Industroyer was used in the December 2016 attack on the Ukrainian power grid. On top of the fact that the malware clearly possesses the unique capabilities to perform the attack, it contains an activation timestamp for December 17, 2016, the day of the power outage.

The 2016 attack on Ukraine's power grid deprived part of its capital, Kiev, of power for an hour. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Uncle Sam to clip wings of Pegasus-like spyware – sorry, 'intrusion software' – with proposed export controls

    Surveillance tech faces trade limits as America syncs policy with treaty obligations

    More than six years after proposing export restrictions on "intrusion software," the US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has formulated a rule that it believes balances the latitude required to investigate cyber threats with the need to limit dangerous code.

    The BIS on Wednesday announced an interim final rule that defines when an export license will be required to distribute what is basically commercial spyware, in order to align US policy with the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement, an international arms control regime.

    The rule [PDF] – which spans 65 pages – aims to prevent the distribution of surveillance tools, like NSO Group's Pegasus, to countries subject to arms controls, like China and Russia, while allowing legitimate security research and transactions to continue. Made available for public comment over the next 45 days, the rule is scheduled to be finalized in 90 days.

    Continue reading
  • Global IT spending to hit $4.5 trillion in 2022, says Gartner

    The future's bright, and expensive

    Corporate technology soothsayer Gartner is forecasting worldwide IT spending will hit $4.5tr in 2022, up 5.5 per cent from 2021.

    The strongest growth is set to come from enterprise software, which the analyst firm expects to increase by 11.5 per cent in 2022 to reach a global spending level of £670bn. Growth has fallen slightly, though. In 2021 it was 13.6 per cent for this market segment. The increase was driven by infrastructure software spending, which outpaced application software spending.

    The largest chunk of IT spending is set to remain communication services, which will reach £1.48tr next year, after modest growth of 2.1 per cent. The next largest category is IT services, which is set to grow by 8.9 per cent to reach $1.29tr over the next year, according to the analysts.

    Continue reading
  • Memory maker Micron moots $150bn mega manufacturing moneybag

    AI and 5G to fuel demand for new plants and R&D

    Chip giant Micron has announced a $150bn global investment plan designed to support manufacturing and research over the next decade.

    The memory maker said it would include expansion of its fabrication facilities to help meet demand.

    As well as chip shortages due to COVID-19 disruption, the $21bn-revenue company said it wanted to take advantage of the fact memory and storage accounts for around 30 per cent of the global semiconductor industry today.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021