Duqu – The worst may still have to come for critical infrastructures

Pierluigi Paganini December 19, 2011

Duqu, a name that we are reading since several months and with whom we have called a malware that scares the scientific community for some features we will shortly describe. I wrote a lot in this blog about Duqu and on more than one occasion we have raised doubts about the genesis of the agent.
Of course, we have established a relationship with the nefarious Stuxnet, a true example of cyber weapon with which they were infected control systems of nuclear power plants in Iran. As previously stated Duqu has some interesting features such as:

  • Modularity of its structure.
  • In isolated instances of the malware, unlike Stuxnet, it would not seem to be equipped with modules for SCADA systems attack. It is only able to steal information from the host system.
  • The malware, as Stuxnet has characteristics that demonstrate innovative techniques behind its development. We suppose that a team of specialists with high technical skills has been engaged to project the most innovative cyber weapon.
According the ENISA Duqu Analysis there are important differences between Duqu and Stuxnet. The 2010 Kaspersky analysis [Gostev 2011] concluded that Stuxnet consists of the two parts:
  1. A component responsible for the propagation of the malware (a carrier platform),
  2. A separate module targeting Programmable Logic Controllers (an attack module).

According to Kaspersky, the carrier platform of Stuxnet could be reused, for example with a different attack module. But, unlike Stuxnet, DuQu can also be reconfigured remotely to install new malware payloads and to direct attacks at new targets.

The attack module of DuQu, found together with the detected samples was a general purpose keylogger (enriched with some additional spying capabilities) able to perform a reconnaissance in any organisation. However, according to Symantec, the aim of DuQu is to infiltrate organisations operating in industrial environments. This conclusion is based on the fact that the majority of the detected threats were found in industrial infrastructures, and because of the connection to Stuxnet code. Unlike Stuxnet, DuQu is an intelligence gathering tool, apparently aiming to prepare the ground for attacks such as Stuxnet. It should be emphasised, however, that there is no direct evidence for the intentions behind DuQu

But if Duque has no components to attack SCADA systems or similar, why create in us so much worry?
Mainly for two reasons:

  1. Remember that we defined modular Duque? Well, this is the feature I think that should cause us to jump from the chair. To date, we have isolated versions of malware orphan of those components to attack specific critical systems, but it is reasonable to assume that the same Duqu is a work in progress project. The ability to compose its structure at different times using modules designed specifically for precise goals makes this unique and formidable.
  2. What occurred in the Stuxnet case has raised media attention demonstrating the total inadequacy of the defense systems of critical infrastructures across the world. Many, too many, the SCADA systems around the world, reachable in an easy manner and easily attacked by evil-minded because they are unprotected, exposed on the web for maintenance purpose, and configured with the factory settings easily available even with simple searches on the web. Also for those SCADA systems deployed without security and isolated from the Internet, there is a concrete risk to be infected using USB memory sticks.

Just this morning I posted an interesting article where I have also discussed of a description of actual scenario made by the ENISA (European Network Information Security Agency). It reveals that Europe’s critical infrastructures are still not sufficiently prepared for attacks like DuQu. “In particular, Europe lacks specific initiatives and policies to address ICS security. There are no commonly adopted ICS security standards, guidelines or regulations, corporate management is not sufficiently involved, and there are numerous technical vulnerabilities.”

The ENISA (European Network Information Security Agency)  has finally produced recommendations for Europe and the Member States on how to protect Industrial Control Systems.

But how much it will cost to implement the necessary measures in defense of our systems?
It has been calculated by Pike Research report that to bolster security for industrial control systems networks will total as much as $14.0 billion between 2011 and 2018

The date reported are staggering and are proof of how offensive is the threat made by Duqu. But a few thoughts I think are dutiful in conclusion of this post:

  • In light of the above costs is essential, as well as an adequate cyber strategy, to introduce in the design phase of infrastructure the concept of cyber security.
  • The costs assumed by Pike Research concerning the implementation of security systems to protect our plants from the threats discussed … what would happen to the budget spending if new and more advanced cyber weapon were widespread?
  • Finally, a consideration of purely economic character. In the analysis I have proposed some time ago on the cost of production of malware, we estimated a cost of tens of millions of dollars. In view of achievable goals with these weapons and the damage we can produce using them we can be sure that in the near future their use would be more frequent … are we ready for this eventuality? And even if our governments are developing them, how much it would cost to society if the same weapons end up in wrong hands?

this is only a battle of a long war.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Duqu, Cyber weapon)

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