Yesterday Saudi Aramco issued a public statement declaring to have fixed most damage and restored all its main internal network services affected by the Cyber Attack occurred on August 15, 2012 (or a “malicious virus” to quote the same term used by the company).
In the same statement, the company has unveiled the real entity of the attack, confirming what was reported in my original blog post: the malicious virus originated from external sources and affected about 30,000 workstations (on a total of 40,000).
The light at the end of the Cyber Tunnel seems quite close, since the company has stated that the workstations have been cleaned and restored to service. There are however some restrictions still in place: as a precaution, remote Internet access to online resources is still restricted and the website aramco.com is offline showing a courtesy page in which the company confirms that all the electronic systems are isolated from outside access.
You will probably remember that the attack occurred nearly in contemporary with the discovery of the latest malware in Middle East, Shamoon, tailored for targeting companies belonging to the Energy Sector, which had consequently put in close relationship with the cyber attack to Saudi Aramco. At the beginning, security researchers believed to have found a brand new cyber weapon in Middle East, but some coding errors found inside the malicious program have convinced the community that Shamoon is not the work of experienced cyber weapons programmers (anyway I believe that if Shamoon is really the source of the troubles for Saudi Aramco, 30,000 erased computers are a respectable results for a team of amateur programmers).
But if the situation is close to normal, hackers all over the world continue to threaten the company: a couple of days ago, an isolated group posted a new menace to Aramco, announcing a new attack for the 25th of August, at 21:00 GMT.Even if the website of aramco.com is still offline, this does not seem the effect of the latest alleged cyber attack: the hackers have posted today, Monday 29 August (sic), a new statement containing the result of their action (several password of internal router and a couple of accounts) but it appears lame and does not seem too much convincing.
Apparently the “Psychosis of Targeted Attacks” is plaguing not only the end users but even the security researchers, leading to dangerous collisions and clamorous retractions.
Yesterday the security firm FireEye published a blog post about the well-known Gauss targeted attacks, concluding that there was some sort of relationship between the Gauss and Flame malware actors based on observing C&C communication going to the Flame C&C IP address.
Unfortunately they did not realize they were observing the activities of a sinkhole operated by Kaspersky in which the sinkhole process had been organized to monitor both the Flame and Gauss C&C infrastructure.
Kaspersky Chief Security Expert Alexander Gostev explains the reasons of the misleading conclusions:
After discovering Gauss we started the process of working with several organizations to investigate the C2 servers with sinkholes. Given Flame’s connection with Gauss, the sinkhole process was being organized to monitor both the Flame and Gauss’ C2 infrastructures. It’s important to note that the Gauss C2 infrastructure is completely different than Flame’s. The Gauss C2s were shut down in July by its operators and the servers have been in a dormant state by the operators since then. However, we wanted to monitor any activity on both C2 infrastructures.
During the process of initiating the investigation into Gauss C2s and creating sinkholes we notified trusted members of the security and anti-malware community about the sinkhole IP and operation so that they were aware of any activity. FireEye’s post about the Gauss C2 samples connecting to the same servers as Flame are actually our sinkholes they’re looking at.
With some easy Googling and checking on WhoIs, researchers could have verified all of this.
Since the investigation and sinkhole operation are still in progress we do not have any more information to provide at this time.
So, it looks like that the destructive impacts of the cyber attack targeting Aramco, where definitively true. In the same hours in which the first details about the malware were disclosed, Kasperky Lab, McAfee and Symantec have dedicated respectively three blog posts to describe what appears to be the latest example of a large scale cyber attack targeting Middle East (apparently focused on companies belonging to Energy Sector).
Shamoon (or W32/DistTrack), this is the name of the malware, has some points in common (the name of a module) with the infamous Flame, but according to Kaspersky this is the only similarity:
It is more likely that this is a copycat, the work of a script kiddies inspired by the story.
The malware has the same features seen in other “companions” among which the driver signed by a legitimate company “Eidos Corporation”.
According to Symantec, the malware consists of several components:
- Dropper: the main component and source of the original infection. It drops a number of other modules.
- Wiper: this module is responsible for the destructive functionality of the threat.
- Reporter: this module is responsible for reporting infection information back to the attacker.
According to McAfee, machines infected by the malware are made useless as most of the files, the MBR and the partition tables are overwritten with garbage data. The overwritten data is lost and is not recoverable, so this should confirm the destructive details received yesterday.
While, according to Seculert, the malware is a two-stage attack:
Stage 1: The attacker takes control of an internal machine connected directly to the internet, and uses that as a proxy to the external Command & Control server. Through the proxy, the attacker can infect the other internal machines, probably not connected directly to the internet.
Stage 2: Once the intended action on the internal infected machines is complete, the attacker executes the Shamoon malware, wiping all evidence of other malicious software or stolen data from those machines (or also the MBR and the partition table as McAfee Suggested). It then reported back to the external Command & Control Server through the proxy.
So far it is not clear who is behind the attack, although Kaspersky Lab suggests that the term Shamoon:
could be a reference to the Shamoon College of Engineering http://www.sce.ac.il/eng/. Or, it could simply be the name of one of the malware authors. Shamoon is the equivalent of Simon in Arabic.
More details are expected in the next hours.
Update August 17: More details about Shamoon, the malware targeting Saudi Aramco and other Middle East companies belonging to Energy Sector. Apparently the destructive details unveiled yesterday are confirmed.
Upate August 27: Saudi Aramco Admits 30K workstations affected.
I have just received a couple of tweets from an unknown user @cyberstrikenews providing more details about the latest Cyber Attack in Middle East targeting Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco).
(@cyberstrikenews) August 16, 2012
The Oil Company declared that “production had not been affected” and even if the virus affected some computers, it did not penetrate key components of the network. The company also said it would return to normal operating mode soon.
From the information I have received (I cannot verify the integrity of the source, so I report the data integrally), the situation appears quite different:
- The company has about 40000 computer clients and about 2000 servers, the destructive virus was known to wipe all information and operation system related files in at least 30000 (75%) of them all data lost permanently.
- Among the servers which (were) destroyed are the company main web server, mail server (smtp and exchange), and the domain controller which as the central part of their network.
- All clients are permanently shut down and they will not be able to recover them in a short period.
- The main company web site ( http://www.aramco.com ) was down during 24 hours and at last they redirected it to an outside country web site called “www.saudiaramco.com”.
Apparently the web site has just been restored to normal operation redirecting the user to Saudi Aramco.
After Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame and Gauss, yet another confirm that there is no cyber peace in middle East!
Here we are with the statistics from the Cyber Attack Timelines for the first and the second half of July 2012. The sample included 76 attacks which have been analyzed according the three familiar parameters: Motivations behind attacks, Distribution of attacks techniques and Distribution of targets.
Again, I will never get tired of repeating that data must be taken very carefully since they do refer only to discovered attacks (the so-called tip of the iceberg), and hence do not pretend to be exhaustive but only aim to provide an high level overview of the “cyber landscape” of the considered period. Moreover, remember that the most dangerous threats are the invisible ones.
As far as the Motivations Behind Attacks are concerned, July has confirmed the predominance of Cyber Crime, although it dropped down to 55% from 72% of the previous month. It is interesting to notice the corresponding growth of Hacktivism, from 18% in June to 32% in July. Although the number of (discovered) attacks motivated by Cyber Espionage is always low, this month their occurrences nearly doubled as a consequence of the events in the Middle East, that confirms to be a “hot area” for the Cyber Arena. Cyber Warfare is positioned at the bottom of the chart with a “poor” 4% of the occurrences.
The Distribution Of Attacks Techniques chart confirms that is getting harder and harder to recognize what the cyber crooks have leveraged to reach their goal. The percentage of the unknown attacks has grown from the 36% of June to the 45% of July. In any case, among the recognized attacks, SQL Injection ranks at number one with the 28% of possible occurrences. DDoS has confirmed his decreasing trend from 16% in June to 9% in July. Maybe the possible victims are learning to effectively defend themselves?
The Distribution of Targets chart confirms that targets belonging to industry are always on top of the preferences of Cyber Crooks with the 32% of occurrences, well above the 21% of the last month. Government targets confirmed their second place with the 15% of occurrences (were the 18% on July) followed by Online Services with the 10%. It is interesting to notice the low occurrences of incidents targeting Law Enforcement Agencies and Military Institutions. Maybe after the high number of cyber attacks suffered, they are learning to enforce adequate countermeasures.
If you want to have an idea of how fragile our data are inside the cyberspace, have a look at the timelines of the main Cyber Attacks in 2011 and 2012 (regularly updated), and follow @paulsparrows on Twitter for the latest updates.
Also, feel free to submit remarkable incidents that in your opinion deserve to be included in the timelines (and charts).
Approximately a couple of weeks ago, an Israeli hacker called You-r!-k@n, one of the early contenders of the Middle East Cyber War, had defaced the Iran Energy Water Website. The attack was claimed as a form of cyber protest (and cyber retaliation) against Iranian institutions executed by the same author.
Yesterday, two weeks later, with the same motivations, the same hacker has targeted and defaced 91 Iranian sites, including several government and education sites together with several important companies.
All the affected sites (at the time of writing the ones listed below are still defaced) show the same message against the “terror” and the nuclear strategy of Iran together with an Israeli flag.
According to the author, the list of the victims include:
- The Tehran’s urban development (http://ashayer.gov.ir) and other web sites with domain gov.ir
- A large number of sites faculties and institutions, for example one of the largest universities in Iran: (http://sama-saveh.ac.ir/info1-28.htm);
- The websites of several large electronic companies (http://gaamelectric.ir/info1-28.htm);
- The websites of one of the largest gas and oil company (http://satrap.ir/info1-28.htm);
According to the original statement of You-r!-k@n:
This is an attack against Iran than support terrorism and developing nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.
The situation between the two hot countries of the Middle East continues to be tense, and cyberspace is not an exception.