MITRE Releases Framework for Industrial Control Systems Cyber Attacks

MITRE has released an ATT&CK™ knowledge base of the tactics and techniques that cyber adversaries use when attacking the industrial control systems (ICS) that operate some of the nation´s most critical infrastructures including energy transmission and distribution plants, oil refineries, wastewater treatment facilities, transportation systems, and more, the company said.

The impacts from these attacks range from disruption to operational productivity to serious harm to human life and the surrounding environment.

ATT&CK for ICS builds on the foundation of the globally accessible, freely available MITRE ATT&CK™ knowledge base, which has been widely adopted by sophisticated cybersecurity teams from around the world to understand adversary behavior and tradecraft and systematically advance defensive capabilities.

Recent threats to ICS systems include cyber attacks on the Ukrainian grid that shut down power over short periods in 2015 and 2016. The “NotPetya” campaign in 2017 caused an estimated USD 10 billion in damage to Ukrainian energy firms as well as airports, banks, other major companies, and government agencies.

Other examples include a former employee of a firm that installed radio-controlled sewage equipment in Australia who used a laptop and radio transmitter to cause pumping station failures that spilled more than 200,000 gallons of raw sewage into parks, waterways, and the grounds of a resort, killing marine life, damaging the waters, and creating a terrible stench.

Some aspects of the existing ATT&CK knowledge base for enterprise IT systems are applicable to ICS, and in many cases may represent an entry point into those ICS systems for adversaries.

ATT&CK for ICS adds the behavior adversaries use within ICS environments. It highlights the unique aspects of the specialized applications and protocols that ICS system operators typically use, and adversaries take advantage of, to interface with physical equipment.

The knowledge base can play several key roles for defenders, including helping establish a standard language for security practitioners to use as they report incidents. With expertise in this domain in short supply, it can also help with the development of incident response playbooks, prioritizing defenses as well as finding gaps, reporting threat intelligence, analyst training and development, and emulating adversaries during exercises.