Cybersecurity

New malware targets critical physical infrastructure

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A new piece of malware recently targeted industrial safety systems at a critical infrastructure company, possibly teeing it up for physical damage and shutdown, according to cybersecurity provider FireEye.

FireEye said its Mandiant subsidiary “recently responded” to an incident at a critical infrastructure organization in a location the firm didn’t identify.

A Dec. 14 post on FireEye’s website said the malware, which it dubbed TRITON, had been deployed by an attacker to manipulate emergency shutdown capabilities for industrial processes at the facility.

“We assess with moderate confidence that the attacker was developing the capability to cause physical damage and inadvertently shutdown operations," the firm wrote.  This malware reportedly is an attack framework built to interact with certain industrial controllers, crippling safety features and potentially causing a physical system failure.

In announcing the discovery, FireEye invoked the names of potent industrial control malware that has caused havoc in the past. TRITON, according to the company, is a member of a very limited family of malware that can cause physical damage through cyberspace. The others, said the post, include the Stuxnet worm that crippled Iran’s nuclear program in 2010 and the Industroyer malware that that ripped through the Ukrainian power grid in 2016. FireEye believes Industroyer was deployed by the Russia-affiliated Sandworm Team.

The company didn’t identify the attacker that unleashed TRITON, but it said the activity was “consistent with a nation state preparing for an attack.”

The attacker, according to FireEye, was probably not a cyber crime group, because targeting the industrial control safety systems at the company suggested a darker goal -- causing a high-impact attack with physical consequences.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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