Mandiant identified novel operational technology (OT) / industrial control system (ICS)-oriented malware, which we track as COSMICENERGY, uploaded to a public malware scanning utility in December 2021 by a submitter in Russia. The malware is designed to cause electric power disruption by interacting with IEC 60870-5-104 (IEC-104) devices, such as remote terminal units (RTUs), that are commonly leveraged in electric transmission and distribution operations in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
COSMICENERGY is the latest example of specialized OT malware capable of causing cyber physical impacts, which are rarely discovered or disclosed. What makes COSMICENERGY unique is that based on our analysis, a contractor may have developed it as a red teaming tool for simulated power disruption exercises hosted by Rostelecom-Solar, a Russian cyber security company. Analysis into the malware and its functionality reveals that its capabilities are comparable to those employed in previous incidents and malware, such as INDUSTROYER and INDUSTROYER.V2, which were both malware variants deployed in the past to impact electricity transmission and distribution via IEC-104.
The discovery of COSMICENERGY illustrates that the barriers to entry for developing offensive OT capabilities are lowering as actors leverage knowledge from prior attacks to develop new malware. Given that threat actors use red team tools and public exploitation frameworks for targeted threat activity in the wild, we believe COSMICENERGY poses a plausible threat to affected electric grid assets. OT asset owners leveraging IEC-104 compliant devices should take action to preempt potential in the wild deployment of COSMICENERGY.
COSMICENERGY’s capabilities and overall attack strategy appear reminiscent of the 2016 INDUSTROYER incident, which issued IEC-104 ON/OFF commands to interact with RTUs and, according to one analysis, may have made use of an MSSQL server as a conduit system to access OT. Leveraging this access, an attacker can send remote commands to affect the actuation of power line switches and circuit breakers to cause power disruption. COSMICENERGY accomplishes this via its two derivative…