October 25, 2014

Malware found in U.S. power plants, should America be worried?

us-cert logo(LiveHacking.Com) – According to a new report (pdf) released by the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, the last three months of 2012 saw at least two instances of malware infecting computers inside power generation facilities.

The first case came to ICS-CERT’s attention when it was contacted by the staff at a power generation facility. Several different bits of malware, which has been classified as both common and sophisticated, were discovered when an employee asked IT staff to inspect a USB drive used to back up control systems configurations within the control environment.

Initial analysis of the malware, found on the USB drive, raised some alarms since one of the infections was linked to known sophisticated malware. ICS-CERT engineers went on-site and took drive images of the infected hardware. The engineers also discovered two critical engineering workstations, which were infected by the malware, that had no backups, and an poor or incorrect removal of the malware would have significantly impaired the operation of the power plant.

A cleanup procedure was developed and executed together with the organization’s control system vendor to ensure that it would not adversely impact the critical workstations.

The second case happened in early October. A power company contacted ICS-CERT to inform it malware infection in a turbine control system. The malware infected around ten computers on the control system network that was down due to a scheduled outage for equipment upgrades. The infection resulted in more than planned downtime and delayed the plant restart by approximately 3 weeks.

“ICS-CERT continues to emphasize that owners and operators of critical infrastructure should develop and implement baseline security policies for maintaining up-to-date antivirus definitions, managing system patching, and governing the use of removable media. Such practices will mitigate many issues that could lead to extended system downtimes,” said the ICS-CERT report. “Defense-in-depth strategies are also essential in planning control system networks and in providing protections to reduce the risk of impacts from cyber events”

It is clear that these key infrastructural facilities need to have the correct security and backup policies and procedures in place, something which is sorely lacking at the moment.

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