That Saudi oil and gas plant that got hacked. You'll never guess who could... OK, it's Russia

FireEye reckons it's fingered the miscreants behind nasty cyber-infection at industrial complex

A malware infection at a Saudi petrochemical plant last year was likely the work of a Moscow-based research operation backed by the Russian government.

Security shop FireEye says this week it is confident in labeling the Kremlin-backed Central Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics (CNIIHM) as the source of tools used to carry out the 2017 Triton attack on industrial control systems at a Saudi oil and gas facility.

FireEye says that an operation known as TEMP.Veles was the precursor of what would become the Triton attack. After reconnaissance the TEMP team infiltrated machines in the Saudi organization and installed malware, which spread throughout its network. This was then used to install and run the Triton malware in an effort to cause physical damage at the facility by shutting off safety controls.

The security firm, which has been investigating the attack since December of last year, believes that the TEMP.Veles operation was carried out by one or more people working from the CNIIHM facility in Moscow.

Among the evidence presented by FireEye was the attacker's use of an IP address registered to CNIIHM and logs that showed much of the TEMP.Veles activity occurring during standard Russian business hours.


Someone is touting a mobile, PC spyware platform called Dark Caracal to governments


Additionally, FireEye was able to tie much of the early development and testing activity to an unnamed individual who was, at the time, working at the facility.

"During our investigation of TEMP.Veles activity, we found multiple unique tools that the group deployed in the target environment," FireEye said.

"Some of these same tools, identified by hash, were evaluated in a malware testing environment by a single user."

If that wasn't enough, CNIIHM is one of the few, if only, facilities in the region that has a combination of the engineering, industrial infrastructure, and information security knowledge needed to carry out the operation under one roof, the security business states.

"While we know that TEMP.Veles deployed the TRITON attack framework, we do not have specific evidence to prove that CNIIHM did (or did not) develop the tool," FireEye says.

"We infer that CNIIHM likely maintains the institutional expertise needed to develop and prototype TRITON based on the institute’s self-described mission and other public information."

Finally, FireEye says, it can almost certainly rule out the "rogue employee" or "lone wolf" outsider scenarios, noting that the operation occurred over multiple years and required knowledge of so many different systems that it would have almost certainly been sniffed out by the institution.

It's unlikely that the institute will see much in the way of consequences, however. So far, the Russian government has shown itself more than willing to engage in state-sponsored hacking operations, and has faced little in the way of repercussions on the global stage. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading
  • Utility biz Delta-Montrose Electric Association loses billing capability and two decades of records after cyber attack

    All together now - R, A, N, S, O...

    A US utility company based in Colorado was hit by a ransomware attack in November that wiped out two decades' worth of records and knocked out billing systems that won't be restored until next week at the earliest.

    The attack was detailed by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association (DMEA) in a post on its website explaining that current customers won't be penalised for being unable to pay their bills because of the incident.

    "We are a victim of a malicious cyber security attack. In the middle of an investigation, that is as far as I’m willing to go," DMEA chief exec Alyssa Clemsen Roberts told a public board meeting, as reported by a local paper.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021