Security firm Symantec said to The Guardian: "While there have been a small number previous cases of malware created to attack industrial control systems (ICS), Triton is the first to attack safety instrumented system devices". FireEye said the Triton framework tool was built with "the ability to read and write programs, read and write individual functions and query the state of the SIS controller", and targeted systems that "provided emergency shutdown capability for industrial processes", however the researchers said the aim of the malicious actors went beyond simply shutting down systems.
In Schneider Electric's case, hackers were able to compromise an SIS workstation.
TRITON was used to modify application memory on SIS controllers in the environment, which could have led to a failed validation check.
The attacker, according to FireEye, was probably not a cyber crime group, because targeting the industrial control safety systems at the company suggested a darker goal - causing a high-impact attack with physical consequences. The researchers say that they haven't attributed the hack to a particular attacker, but they do say it bore hallmarks of threats from a nation-state. "We assess with moderate confidence that the attacker was developing the capability to cause physical damage and inadvertently shutdown operations".
In announcing the discovery, FireEye invoked the names of potent industrial control malware that has caused havoc in the past.
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They also likely performed advanced reconnaissance on their victim, which FireEye hasn't identified, because they knew it was using Triconex SIS controllers. The attacker could have caused a process shutdown by issuing a halt command or intentionally uploading flawed code to the SIS controller to cause it to fail.
The first clue is that attackers deployed TRITON right away after gaining access to an SIS engineering workstation with access to SIS controllers. Instead, the attacker made several attempts over a period of time to develop and deliver functioning control logic for the SIS controllers in this target environment. Engineering workstations capable of programming SIS controllers should not be dual-homed to any other DCS process control or information system network.
"Intrusions of this nature do not necessarily indicate an immediate intent to disrupt targeted systems, and may be preparation for a contingency", the FireEye team said, hinting that this could have also been a live field test for a more sinister attack. "Never leave the front panel key position in the "Program" mode when not actively configuring the controller", Schneider Electric wrote in an advisory.
Use a unidirectional gateway rather than bidirectional network connections for any applications that depend on the data provided by the SIS.
Monitor ICS network traffic for unexpected communication flows and other anomalous activity.