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The FireEye Approach to Operational Technology Security

Cyber security BCyber todayDecember 28, 2019 164 5

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Today FireEye launches the Cyber Physical Threat Intelligence
subscription, which provides cyber security professionals with
unmatched context, data and actionable analysis on threats and risk to
cyber physical systems. In light of this release, we thought it would
be helpful to explain FireEye’s philosophy and broader approach to
operational technology (OT) security. In summary, combined visibility
into both the IT and OT environments is critical for detecting
malicious activity at any stage of an OT intrusion. The FireEye
approach to OT security is to:

Detect threats early using full situational awareness of IT
and OT networks.

The surface area for most intrusions transcend architectural layers
because at almost every level along the way there are computers
(servers and workstations) and networks using the same or similar
operating systems and protocols as used in IT, which serve as an
avenue of approach for impacting physical assets or control of a
physical process. The oft touted airgap is in many cases a myth.

There is often a singular focus from the security community on
industrial control system (ICS) malware largely due to its novel
nature and the fact that there have been very few examples found. This
attention is useful for a variety of reasons, but disproportionate to
the actual methods of the intrusions where ICS-tailored malware is
used. In the attacks utilizing Industroyer and TRITON,
the attackers moved from the IT network to the OT network through
systems that were accessible to both environments. Traditional malware
backdoors, Mimikatz extracts, remote desktop sessions and other
well-documented, easily detected attack methods were used throughout
these intrusions and found at every level of the IT, IT DMZ, OT DMZ
and OT environments.

We believe that defenders and incident responders should focus much
more attention on intrusion methods, or TTPs, across the attack
lifecycle, most of which are present on what we call “intermediary
systems”—predominately networked workstations and servers using
operating systems and protocols that are similar to or the same as
those used in IT, which are used as stepping-stones to gain access to
OT assets. This approach is effective because almost all sophisticated
OT attacks leverage these systems as stepping stones to their ultimate target.

To illustrate this philosophy, we present some new concepts for
approaching OT threats, including the Funnel of Opportunity for OT
Threat Detection and the Theory of 99, as well as practical examples
derived from our analysis and incident response work. We hope these
ideas challenge others in the security community to put forward new
ideas and drive discussion and collaboration. We strive for a world
where attacking or disrupting ICS operations costs the threat actor
their cover, their toolkits, their time and their freedom.

The “Funnel of Opportunity” Highlights the Value of
Detecting OT Attacks In “Intermediary Systems”

Over the past 15 years of responding to and analyzing many of the
most important threats in IT and OT, FireEye observed a consistent
pattern across almost all OT security incidents: There is an inverse
relationship between the presence of an attacker’s activities and the
severity of consequence to physical assets or processes. The attack
lifecycle when viewed like this begins to take on a “funnel” shape,
representing both the breadth of attacker footprint and the breadth of
detection opportunity for any given level. Similarly, from top to
bottom we represent the timeline of the intrusion and its proximity to
the physical world. The bottom is the cross-over of impact from the
cyber world to the physical world.

Figure 1: The Funnel of Opportunity for
OT Threat Detection

In the early stages of the attack lifecycle, the intruder spends
prolonged periods of time targeting components such as servers and
workstations across IT and the IT DMZ. Identifying threat activity at
this architectural level is relatively straightforward given that
dwell time is high, threat actors often leave visible traces, and
there are many mature security tools, services and other capabilities
designed to detect this activity. While it is difficult to anticipate
or associate this early intrusion activity in IT layers with more
complex OT targeted attacks, IT networks remain the best zone to
detect attacks.

In addition to being relatively easy to detect, early attacker
activity also presents a very low risk of negative impact to OT
networks. This is primarily because OT networks are commonly
segmented, often with an OT DMZ separating them from IT, limiting
attacker access to the industrial process. Also, targeted OT attacks
commonly require threat actors to acquire abundant process
documentation to determine how to cause a desired outcome. While some
of this information may be available in IT networks, planning this
type of attack would almost certainly require further process
visibility only available in the OT network. This is why, as the
intrusion progresses and the attacker gets closer or gains access to
OT networks, the severity of possible negative outcomes becomes
proportionally higher. However, the activity becomes more difficult to
detect as the attacker’s footprint grows smaller and there are fewer
security tools available to defenders.

The TRITON and Industroyer Attacks Exemplify This Phenomenon

Figure 2 shows an approximate representation of endpoints that were
compromised across the architecture of victim organizations during the
TRITON and Industroyer
attacks. The Funnel of Opportunity is located in the intersection
between the two triangles. It is here where the balance between
attacker presence and operational consequence of an intrusion makes it
easier and more meaningful for security organizations to identify
threat activity. As a result, threat hunting close to the OT DMZ and
DCS represents the most efficient approach as the detectable features
of the intrusion are still present and the severity of potential
consequences of the intrusion is high, but still not critical.

Figure 2: Approximate representation of
endpoints compromised during the TRITON and Industroyer attacks

In both the TRITON and Industroyer incidents, the threat actor
followed a consistent pattern traversing the victims’ architecture
from IT networks, through the OT network, and ultimately reaching the
physical process controls. In both incidents, we observed that the
actor moved through segmented architectures using computers located in
different zones. While we only illustrated two incidents in this blog
post, we highlight that movement across zones leveraging computers has
also been observed in
public OT security incident to date.

The Theory of 99: Almost All Threat Activity Happens in Windows and
Linux Systems

FireEye’s unique visibility into the full attack lifecycle of
thousands of intrusions from both independent research and first-hand
incident response experience has enabled us to support this theory
with real-world data, some of which we share here. FireEye has
consistently identified similar TTPs leveraged by threat actors
regardless of their target industry or ultimate goals. We believe that
visibility into network traffic and endpoint behaviors are some of the
most important components for IT security. These components are also
critical in preventing pivots to key assets in the OT network and
detecting threat activity once it does reach OT.

Our observations can be summarized in what we call the Theory of 99,
which states that in intrusions that go deep enough to impact OT:

  • 99% of compromised systems will be computer workstations and
  • 99% of malware will be designed for computer
    workstations and servers
  • 99% of forensics will be performed
    on computer workstations and servers
  • 99% of detection
    opportunities will be for activity connected to computer
    workstations and servers
  • 99% of intrusion dwell time
    happens in commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer equipment before
    any Purdue level 0-1 devices are impacted

As a result, there is often a significant overlap across TTPs
utilized by threat actors targeting both IT and OT networks.

Figure 3: TTPs seen across both IT and OT incidents

Figure 3 presents a summary of TTP overlaps between TRITON,
Industroyer, and some relatively common activity from cybercrime group
FIN6 is a group of intrusion operators who have compromised multiple
point-of-sale (POS) environments to steal payment card data and sell
it in on the dark web. While the motivations and ultimate goal of the
threat actors that developed TRITON and Industroyer differ
significantly from FIN6, the three actors share common TTPs, including
the use of Meterpreter, compromising dual-homed systems, leveraging
RDP to establish remote connections and so forth. The overlap in tools
and TTPs across actors interested in IT and OT should be of no
surprise. The use of IT tools for OT compromises directly corresponds
to a trend best known as IT/OT convergence. As IT equipment
increasingly becomes integrated in OT systems and networks to improve
efficiency and manageability, we can expect threat actors to be able
to leverage networked computers as a conduit to reach industrial controls.

Drawing parallels between intrusions into high security
environments, we can gain insight into actor behaviors and identify
detection opportunities earlier in the attack lifecycle. Intelligence
on intrusions across various sectors can be useful in highlighting
which common and emerging adversary tools and TTPs are likely to be
used in tailored attacks against organizations with OT assets.

FireEye Services, Intelligence, and Technology Provide Unparalleled
Protection In IT and OT

While the FireEye approach to OT security detailed in this blog post
emphasizes the criticality of “intermediary systems” when defending
OT, we do not want to downplay the importance of the OT expertise and
technology needed to respond to the most critical 1% of threat
activity that does impact control systems. OT is in our DNA at
FireEye: FireEye Mandiant’s OT practice has been one of the leading
industry voices over the past six years, and the FireEye Cyber
Physical Intelligence offering is the most recent evolution of the
heritage of Critical Intelligence—the first commercial OT threat
intelligence company founded in 2009.

Figure 4: FireEye OT-specific offerings

We believe that sharing our philosophy for OT security and
highlighting FireEye’s comprehensive OT security capabilities will
help organizations look at this security challenge from a different
angle and take tangible steps forward to build a robust,
all-encompassing security program. Figure 4 maps FireEye’s OT security
offerings against the NIST
Cybersecurity Framework’s Five Functions, matching FireEye
services to the lifecycle of an organization’s cyber security risk management.

If you are interested in learning more or purchasing FireEye
OT-focused solutions, you can reach out here: FireEye
OT Solutions.

This content was originally published here.

Written by: BCyber

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