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Photo: sarote pruksachat/Getty Images

A hacking group known as XENOTIME, which shut down an industrial plant in the Middle East last year, is expanding its targets and could launch destructive attacks on the safety components of industrial control systems, the cybersecurity firm Dragos reports in a blog post.

Why it matters: Such attacks could affect operations at nuclear, chemical, and other industrial plants, and outcomes involving death or physical harm could be either a goal or an acceptable outcome of the attacks. Per Dragos, "XENOTIME is easily the most dangerous threat activity publicly known ... which can lead to scenarios involving loss of life and environmental damage."

What we know: XENOTIME "is presently operating in multiple facilities targeting safety systems," according to Dragos.

"It is the only activity group intentionally compromising and disrupting industrial safety instrumented systems."
— Dragos on XENOTIME

What we don’t know: Where those facilities are and which systems are being targeted, and which country may be behind the group.

The original attack: Dragos and FireEye published a report in December 2017 chronicling XENOTIME's attack on Schneider Electric’s Triconex safety instrumented system using both custom malware and credential gathering tools. The operation didn’t play out as planned because of a misconfiguration.

  • What to watch, per Dragos: “As XENOTIME matures, it is less likely that the group will make this mistake in the future.”

Go deeper

Trump pressures Barr to release so-called Durham report

Bill Barr. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Trump and his allies are piling extreme pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to release a report that Trump believes could hurt perceived Obama-era enemies — and view Barr's designation of John Durham as special counsel as a stall tactic, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Speculation over Barr's fate grew on Tuesday, with just 49 days remaining in Trump's presidency, after Barr gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

A health care worker oversees cars as people arrive to get tested for coronavirus at a testing site in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
3 hours ago - Health

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Hospital staff work in the COVID-19 intensive care unit in Houston. Photo: Go Nakamura via Getty

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.