DHS reviewing report Russia-linked hackers targeted United States energy sector

Power grid in Gowkthrapple

Symantec researchers recently uncovered a new wave of cyber attacks targeting the energy sector in Europe and North America, with the potential to disrupt operations at target companies.

For the past two years, cyber attackers have shown keen interest on the energy sector.

This breach bears a strong resemblance to an earlier hack carried out by a group dubbed Dragonfly. In recent months, there have also been media reports of attempted attacks on the electricity grids in some European countries, as well as reports of companies that manage nuclear facilities in the United States being compromised by hackers, the blog said.

That learning has likely culminated in an "ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so, "Symantec says". Symantec identifies Dragonfly 2.0's earliest activity as an email campaign targeted at those in the energy sector masquerading as an invitation to a New Year's Eve party. "Much of this activity was undetected by the security industry and is highly targeted", Jon Dimaggio, senior threat intelligence analyst at Symantec, told eWEEK.

The escalation is seen as serious given that operational networks can often wield significant influence over the stability of the electric grid they're responsible for. Symantec customers are protected against the activities of the Dragonfly group.

Apparently, cyber criminals who have access to an energy company's power grid operation could pose as de facto operators of the company's energy assets.

In response, Fantuzzi said, it's crucial for energy companies to undergo a through security risk assessment and prioritize ongoing risk management. They could create various failures. According to the GAO, a hacker acting alone or on behalf of a terrorist organization could cause transformer failure and mass power outages with little more than a laptop.

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Dragonfly, a group that infamously targeted the global energy sector from 2011-2014, appears to be back with a vengeance. In the 2016 and 2017 campaigns, the group is using evasion framework Shellter in order to develop Trojanized applications. "The emails contained very specific content related to the energy sector, as well as some related to general business concerns". Attacks were of three types: phishing emails sent to employees of energy companies, bids to attract these individuals to watering holes that were infected, and the use of malicious emails to obtain network credentials.

After stealing credentials, the attackers executed a series of follow-up attacks against their target organizations.

Once the attackers established remote access to the company's network, those account credentials could be used to compromise other computers inside the network.

According to a report from The Guardian, the group appears to be more interested in information-gathering. "There are no more technical hurdles for them to cause some sort of disruption", Chien said of the hackers.

Additionally, Dragonfly uses spear-phishing emails primarily used to drop malware, which then captures and transmits user credentials to an attacker infrastructure.

The group was active between 2011 and 2014, and after a lull, re-emerged with its most recent campaign starting in late 2015.

Text string in the code of their hacks appears in both Russian and French, but the presence of either language could technically just be meant to cloak the true identity of the hackers.

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