Researchers spotted a new activity group called HEXANE targeting industrial control systems (ICSs) in the Middle East.
Dragos observed HEXANE targeting ICSs operated by oil and gas companies located in the Middle East and telecommunications providers in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. The security firm reasoned that the group was likely pursuing these targets to lay the groundwork to conduct network-based attacks, such as man-in-the-middle (MitM) operations.
Active since at least 2018, HEXANE distinguished itself from similar groups like MAGNALLIUM and CHRYSENE by its unique behaviors, tools and victimology. For instance, the fact that it uses malicious domains leveraging general IT themes and novel detection evasion schemes helped make HEXANE stand out among its peers. That said, Dragos stated that the group neither has the necessary access nor capability to disrupt industrial control systems at this time.
Threats to Industrial Control Systems Abound
HEXANE isn’t the only threat to target organizations’ industrial control systems. Kaspersky Lab observed as much in a March 2019 report when it discovered that almost half of industrial systems exhibited signs of attempted access to their critical assets.
Just a month later, FireEye uncovered a second intrusion involving TRITON, a custom attack framework designed to manipulate industrial safety systems. In June, Trend Micro observed XENOTIME, the threat actor behind TRITON, probing the ICSs associated with U.S. power grids.
How to Defend Against ICS Attacks
Security professionals can help defend their organizations from ICS attacks by establishing testing programs that evaluate all industrial control systems and their components for relevant security threats based on their respective risk profiles.
Companies should also consider strengthening both their incident response and threat intelligence capabilities so they can quickly determine the root cause of a security incident and prevent digital attackers from accomplishing their goals.