The attackers behind the epic Triton/Trisis attack that in 2017 targeted and shut down a physical safety instrumentation system at a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia now have been discovered probing the networks of dozens of US and Asia-Pacific electric utilities.
Industrial-control system (ICS) security firm Dragos, which calls the attack group XENOTIME, says the attackers actually began scanning electric utility networks in the US and Asia-Pacific regions in late 2018 using similar tools and methods the attackers have used in targeting oil and gas companies in the Middle East and North America.
The findings follow speculation and concern among security experts that the Triton group would expand its scope into the power grid. To date, the only publicly known successful attack was that of the Saudi Arabian plant in 2017. In that attack, the Triton/Trisis malware was discovered embedded in a Schneider Electric customer’s safety system controller. The attack could have been catastrophic, but an apparent misstep by the attackers inadvertently shut down the Schneider Triconex Emergency Shut Down (ESD) system.
Dragos said in a report published today that there’s no evidence at this point that XENOTIME could actually wage a cyberattack that would result in “a prolonged disruptive or destructive event on electric utility operations,” but that the hacking group’s newly discovered activity around power grid providers is concerning.
“XENOTIME, the most dangerous cyberthreat in the world, provides a prime example of threat proliferation in ICS. What was once considered an ‘oil and gas threat’ is now an electric threat, too,” says Sergio Caltagirone, vice president of threat intelligence at Dragos. “Dragos expects this overlapping targeting will continue across sectors, from power, to water, to manufacturing, and more.”
FireEye Mandiant earlier this year revealed that it discovered the Triton/Trisis attack code installed at an industrial organization, marking the first publicly revealed attack by the Triton/Trisis group since the original incident at the Saudia Arabian plant. FireEye analysts found a set of custom Triton/Trisis tools tied to this second victim’s organization and the attackers inside the victim’s corporate IT network. They declined to reveal the identity of the victim organization.
Meanwhile, the Triton/XENOTIME group in 2018 also compromised several ICS vendors, raising concerns of them waging supply chain-style attacks.
Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. 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