Cyber espionage campaign based on Havex RAT hit ICS/SCADA systems

Pierluigi Paganini June 25, 2014

Security Experts at F-Secure discovered a cyber espionage campaign based in the Havex malware targeting ICS/SCADA systems and vendors.

Security Experts at F-Secure have conducted an investigation on the Havex Malware family in the past months, let’s remember that the malicious agent has been used in several targeted attacks against different industry sectors, and according to the research conducted by Crowdstrike security firm energy sector it one of the privileged targets of attackers. Havex is a general purpose Remote Access Trojan (RAT) which uses a server written in PHP.

Havex source code

“This adversary uses two primary implants: one dubbed HAVEX RAT by CrowdStrike and another called SYSMain RAT. These implants are closely related with several TTP overlaps and clear code reuse, particularly within secondary tools associated with the HAVEX RAT. It is possible that the HAVEX RAT is itself a newer version of the SYSMain RAT, although both tools are still in use concurrently and have been operated by the attackers since at least 2011. The investigation into this actor uncovered more than 25 versions of the HAVEX RAT, with build times up to October 2013. Each version will install itself as DLL with a name beginning “TMPprovider”, such as TMPprovider037.dll for version 37.” reported the company blog post.

Experts at F-Secure recently noticed that Havex was used by attackers to hit Industrial Control Systems (ICS), the criminals have customized the malicious agent infecting software available for download from ICS/SCADA manufacturer websites in an attempt to infect the computers where the software is installed to.

The attackers conducted surgical attacks implementing “watering-hole attack” scheme which involved ICS vendor site as intermediary target. The SCADA vendors targeted by the Havex campaign are based in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, two of them are suppliers of remote management software for ICS systems and the third one develops high-precision industrial cameras and related software.

“Our research uncovered three software vendor sites that were compromised in this manner. The software installers available on the sites were trojanized to include the Havex RAT. We suspect more similar cases exist but have not been identified yet.””Our research uncovered three software vendor sites that were compromised in this manner. The software installers available on the sites were trojanized to include the Havex RAT. We suspect more similar cases exist but have not been identified yet.” states F-Secure

The Havex RAT is distributed at least through the following channels:

F-Secure also isolated instances of Havex which include a data-harvesting component, this circumstance suggests that the criminals behind the campaign are also interested to collect information on the ICS/SCADA systems in the targeted infrastructure.

This circumstance is very critical due the numerous problems related to the patch management for system used in critical infrastructure for which administrator privileges the H24 availability instead the security. The security experts isolated 88 different instances of Havex RAT used to infect network hosting ICS systems, according to F-Secure its team has analyzed 146 command and control (C&C) servers and traced nearly 1500 IP addresses. The majority of the victims is located in Europe, it includes educational institutions, industrial application or machine producers and companies specialize in structural engineering.

Once infected the targeted system, the trojanized software installer will drop and execute the malicious code which allows the attacker to install a backdoor to gain complete control of the PC.
Experts at F-Secure have uncovered an industrial espionage campaign based on trojanizing ICS/SCADA software installers, the attackers used HAVEX malware to target control systems in critical infrastructure, curious that the group behind the attacks doesn’t always manage the C&C’s in a professional manner, revealing lack of experience in operations.

“The additional payload used to gather details about ICS/SCADA hardware connected to infected devices shows the attackers have direct interest in controlling such environments. This is a pattern that is not commonly observed today.” 

Probably many other similar attacks will be soon uncovered, critical infrastructure are a privileged targets for cyber criminals and state-sponsored hackers, it’s time to consider new approach to their cyber security.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Havex, critical infrastructure)

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