The Havex remote access Trojan (RAT) is being used in cyber espionage operations aimed at industrial control systems, according to recent reports.
In its 2013 Global Threat Report, cyber security firm CrowdStrike said that a Russian group dubbed "Energetic Bear" was using Havex malware to conduct intelligence collection campaigns aimed at various organizations worldwide with a primary focus on the energy sector.
Security firm F-Secure, which has been monitoring the use of the Havex malware family, noticed attacks aimed at ICS in the spring of 2014. Experts have analyzed a total of 88 variants of the RAT and 146 command and control (C&C) servers which have been used in data harvesting operations.
In addition to exploit kits and spam emails, the malicious actors have relied on watering hole attacks to distribute the threat on the systems of the targeted organizations. The watering hole attacks involve trojanized software planted on compromised websites belonging to at least three ICS/SCADA vendors.
"It appears the attackers abuse vulnerabilities in the software used to run the websites to break in and replace legitimate software installers available for download to customers," Daavid Hentunen, senior researcher at F-Secure, wrote in a blog post.
The vendors whose websites are abused to distribute Havex are based in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. Two of them supply remote management software for ICS and the other specializes in the development of high-precision industrial cameras.
After the malware infects a system of a targeted organization, Havex starts communicating with C&C servers which instruct infected machines to download and execute additional components. While their motivation is unclear at this point, the attackers appear to be interested not just in the networks of targeted organizations, but also in gaining access to devices used for ICS/SCADA, the security company said.
One component analyzed by F-Secure researchers relies on Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) for Process Control (OPC) ̶ a standard that provides a common bridge for Windows-based software and process control hardware ̶ to collect information on connected devices and send it back to the C&C servers. This component appears to be designed for intelligence harvesting and so far experts haven't seen any evidence to suggest that the attackers are actually trying to control hardware.
The Havex C&C servers identified by F-Secure are mostly compromised websites, particularly blogs. By tracing around 1,500 IP addresses that communicate with these servers, researchers have managed to obtain some information on the targeted organizations.
While most of the victims are located in Europe, the computers of at least one company in California have also been communicating with the C&C servers in question. The other targeted organizations are a construction company in Russia, a France-based manufacturer of industrial machines, two industrial application or machine producers in Germany, and two French educational institutions that conduct technology-related research.