Symantec warned on Sept. 6 that it is seeing the re-emergence of a hacker group known as Dragonfly that is directly targeting energy firms and industrial control system (ICS) infrastructures.
Symantec issued warnings about the first Dragonfly attacks back in July 2014, after which the hacker group's attacks diminished. The new round of attacks, dubbed Dragonfly 2.0 by Symantec, have been underway since December 2015, with an increasing number of attacks in 2017.
"Much of this activity was undetected by the security industry and is highly targeted," Jon DiMaggio, senior threat intelligence analyst at Symantec, told eWEEK. "Once we identified the activity and began to look into what was going on, we realized this was a major operation targeting the energy industry."
The Dragonfly 2.0 attacks involve multiple elements, including phishing emails designed to trick users into opening attachments, as well as fake Flash updates that end up installing Trojan backdoors.
"The fact that the attacker can create malware that may not be detected and has goal-oriented operations shows the adversary has both the funding and capability that is usually only seen with nation-state attackers," DiMaggio said.
According to Symantec, Dragonfly 2.0 has attacked energy companies in the United States, Turkey and Switzerland. It's not clear how many organizations have been impacted, though at this point the attacks have not directly led to any known operational outages.
"We are working with victims to identify and mitigate the recent Dragonfly attacks. However, since these are true victims of a major cyber-attack, we cannot provide details down to that level," DiMaggio said. "However, I will say that we have not seen any major impact to operations, and hopefully this information being released publicly will prevent vital ICS systems from being damaged or altered."
The Dragonfly 2.0 attackers are using a multistage process to gain access to ICS and energy company networks. According to Symantec, Dragonfly relies heavily on stolen credentials to compromise a network. The attacks are using a "watering hole" attack technique where legitimate websites are used to compromise visitors of the page and entice them to log in and then transmit the credentials to an attacker-controlled infrastructure, DiMaggio said.
Additionally, Dragonfly uses spear-phishing emails primarily used to drop malware, which then captures and transmits user credentials to an attacker infrastructure. DiMaggio said the Dragonfly 2.0 attackers are primarily using the publicly available Phishery tool for the phishing campaign.
"Once remote access is established, the attacker uses publicly available tools or admin tools within the victim's environment to obtain credentials post-compromise to further their leverage and access to systems of interest," DiMaggio said.
At this point, the Dragonfly attacks have not made use of destructive malware that would impact the operations of an ICS. In June 2017, security researchers from Dragos and ESET detailed the actions of an attack dubbed Industroyer that triggered a massive power outage in the Ukraine.
With the original Dragonfly 1.0 operation, Symantec's assessment is that the attackers' intent was to obtain access to energy- and ICS-based systems, according to DiMaggio.
"Based on the post operations and the amount of time and effort spent to obtain access to specific network or systems in the recent campaign, it is above and beyond what was seen in Dragonfly 1.0," he said. "We believe that it is plausible, based on the amount of attacker time and interest to specific systems, that the main advantage to accessing them would be to disrupt operations."
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.