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CybersecurityWestern energy sector target of sophisticated attack by Russian-linked group Dragonfly

Published 11 September 2017

The energy sector in Europe and North America is being targeted by a new wave of cyberattacks that could provide attackers with the means to severely disrupt affected operations. The group behind these attacks is known as Dragonfly. The group has been in operation since at least 2011 but has re-emerged over the past two years from a quiet period following exposure by Symantec and a number of other researchers in 2014. This “Dragonfly 2.0” campaign, which appears to have begun in late 2015, shares tactics and tools used in earlier campaigns by the group.

The energy sector in Europe and North America is being targeted by a new wave of cyberattacks that could provide attackers with the means to severely disrupt affected operations. The group behind these attacks is known as Dragonfly. The group has been in operation since at least 2011 but has re-emerged over the past two years from a quiet period following exposure by Symantec and a number of other researchers in 2014. This “Dragonfly 2.0” campaign, which appears to have begun in late 2015, shares tactics and tools used in earlier campaigns by the group.

Symantec says that the energy sector has become an area of increased interest to cyberattackers over the past two years. Most notably, disruptions to Ukraine’s power system in 2015 and 2016 were attributed to a cyberattack and led to power outages affecting hundreds of thousands of people. In recent months, there have also been media reports of attempted attacks on the electricity grids in some European countries, as well as reports of companies that manage nuclear facilities in the U.S. being compromised by hackers.

The Dragonfly group appears to be interested in both learning how energy facilities operate and also gaining access to operational systems themselves, to the extent that the group now potentially has the ability to sabotage or gain control of these systems should it decide to do so. Symantec customers are protected against the activities of the Dragonfly group.

Dragonfly 2.0
Symantec says it has evidence indicating that the Dragonfly 2.0 campaign has been underway since at least December 2015 and has identified a distinct increase in activity in 2017.

Symantec has strong indications of attacker activity in organizations in the United States, Turkey, and Switzerland, with traces of activity in organizations outside of these countries. The United States and Turkey were also among the countries targeted by Dragonfly in its earlier campaign, though the focus on organizations in Turkey does appear to have increased dramatically in this more recent campaign.

As it did in its prior campaign between 2011 and 2014, Dragonfly 2.0 uses a variety of infection vectors in an effort to gain access to a victim’s network, including malicious emails, watering hole attacks, and Trojanized software.