Nov 20, 2019

Microsoft: Iranian hacker group homing in on industrial systems

llustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A hacker group believed to carry out some of the Iranian government's destructive attacks is focusing on makers of industrial control systems, according to a presentation a Microsoft employee will give at Thursday's CyberWarCon detailed in a new Wired article.

Why it matters: The group, nicknamed APT 33, Refined Kitten and Elfin, has been known to use malware to damage computer systems in the past, leading the Microsoft researcher presenting the talk on Thursday, Ned Moran, to speculate that the hackers may be laying the groundwork for future destructive attacks on industrial systems.

To be clear: The group has also been associated with traditional, fact-finding and source producing espionage as well. It's tough to guess the endgame of most hackers from their opening moves.

Industrial control systems, as the name implies, are the computerized systems that interface with pumps, fans and robots carrying out industrial tasks.

What they found: Moran told Wired that APT 33 has changed its tactics in recent months. In the past, the group had hacked systems by guessing passwords of employees at tens of thousands of different organizations at a time, but has now shifted to focusing on more employees at each of a smaller number—roughly 2,000—targets.

  • Around half the top 25 targets were makers or maintainers of industrial systems.

APT 33 has a history of attacking aerospace and oil operations, as well as politicians, academics and the water source for a U.S. military facility.

  • It has been connected to two strains of hard drive erasing "wiper" malware known: ShapeShift and Shamoon. Shamoon has been used in some of the most destructive cyber attacks in history, including an attack on Saudi Aramco.

Go deeper: Infamous Shamoon malware re-emerges.

Go deeper

George Floyd updates

Protesters gather north of Lafayette Square near the White House during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been rallying in cities across the U.S. and around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd. Huge crowds assembled in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago for full-day events on Saturday.

Why it matters: Twelve days of nationwide protest in the U.S. has built pressure for states to make changes on what kind of force law enforcement can use on civilians and prompted officials to review police conduct. A memorial service was held for Floyd in Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all flags to fly at half-staff to honor him until sunset.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 6,889,889 — Total deaths: 399,642 — Total recoveries — 3,085,326Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 1,920,061 — Total deaths: 109,802 — Total recoveries: 500,849 — Total tested: 19,778,873Map.
  3. Public health: Why the pandemic is hitting minorities harder — Coronavirus curve rises in FloridaHow racism threatens the response to the pandemic Some people are drinking and inhaling cleaning products in attempt to fight the virus.
  4. Tech: The pandemic is accelerating next-generation disease diagnostics — Robotics looks to copy software-as-a-service model.
  5. Business: Budgets busted by coronavirus make it harder for cities to address inequality Sports, film production in California to resume June 12 after 3-month hiatus.
  6. Education: Students and teachers flunked remote learning.
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In photos: People around the world rally against racism

Despite a ban on large gatherings implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic, protesters rally against racism in front of the American Embassy in Paris on June 6. Photo: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people have continued to rally in cities across the world against racism and show their support this week for U.S. demonstrators protesting the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Why it matters: The tense situation in the U.S. has brought the discussion of racism and discrimination onto the global stage at a time when most of the world is consumed by the novel coronavirus.