Florida water plant compromise came hours after worker visited malicious site

An worker for the town of Oldsmar, Florida, visited a malicious web site concentrating on water utilities simply hours earlier than somebody broke into the pc system for the town’s water remedy plant and tried to poison drinking water, safety agency Dragos mentioned Tuesday. Finally, the location probably performed no position within the intrusion, however the incident stays unsettling, the safety agency mentioned.

The web site, which belonged to a Florida water utility contractor, had been compromised in late December by hackers who then hosted malicious code that appeared to focus on water utilities, notably these in Florida, Dragos researcher Kent Backman wrote in a blog post. Greater than 1,000 end-user computer systems visited the location in the course of the 58-day window that the location was contaminated.

A kind of visits got here on February 5 at 9:49 am ET from a pc on a community belonging to the Metropolis of Oldsmar. Within the night of the identical day, an unknown actor gained unauthorized entry to the pc interface used to regulate the chemical substances that deal with consuming water for the roughly 15,000 residents of the small metropolis about 16 miles northwest of Tampa.

The intruder modified the extent of lye to 11,100 components per million, a doubtlessly deadly improve from the conventional quantity of 100 ppm. The change was shortly detected and rolled again.

So-called watering-hole assaults have turn into frequent in pc hacking crimes that focus on particular industries or teams of customers. Simply as predators in nature lie in wait close to watering holes utilized by their prey, hackers typically compromise a number of web sites frequented by the goal group and plant malicious code tailor-made to those that go to them. Dragos mentioned the location it discovered appeared to focus on water utilities, particularly these in Florida.

“Those that interacted with the malicious code included computer systems from municipal water utility prospects, state and native authorities companies, numerous water industry-related personal firms, and regular web bot and web site crawler visitors,” Backman wrote. “Over 1,000 end-user computer systems had been profiled by the malicious code throughout that point, largely from inside america and the State of Florida.”

Right here’s a map exhibiting the places of these computer systems:

Geolocation of US fingerprinted client computers.
Enlarge / Geolocation of US fingerprinted shopper computer systems.


Detailed data collected

The malicious code gathered greater than 100 items of detailed details about guests, together with their working system and CPU sort, browser and supported languages, time zone, geolocation companies, video codecs, display screen dimensions, browser plugins, contact factors, enter strategies, and whether or not cameras, accelerometers, or microphones had been current.

The malicious code additionally directed guests to 2 separate websites that collected cryptographic hashes that uniquely recognized every connecting gadget and uploaded the fingerprints to a database hosted at bdatac.herokuapp[.]com. The fingerprinting script used code from 4 totally different code tasks: core-js, UAParser, regeneratorRuntime, and a data-collection script noticed on solely two different web sites, each of that are related to a site registration, internet hosting, and internet growth firm.

Florida water utility contractor website compromised with a unique browser enumeration and fingerprinting script.
Enlarge / Florida water utility contractor web site compromised with a novel browser enumeration and fingerprinting script.


Dragos mentioned it discovered just one different web site serving the complicated and complex code to guests. The positioning, DarkTeam[.]retailer, purports to be an underground market that provides hundreds of shoppers with reward playing cards and accounts. A portion of the location, firm researchers discovered, might also be a check-in location for programs contaminated with a latest variant of botnet malware referred to as Tofsee.

Dragos additionally uncovered proof that the identical actor hacked the DarkTeam web site and the water-infrastructure building firm web site on the identical day, December 20, 2020. Dragos noticed 12,735 IP addresses it suspects are Tofsee-infected programs connecting to a nonpublic web page, which means it required authentication. The browser then offered a person agent string with a peculiar “Tesseract/1.0” artifact in it.

Unique “Tesseract/1.0” user agent substring artifact associated with browser check-ins to a restricted page on the darkteam.store site.
Enlarge / Distinctive “Tesseract/1.0” person agent substring artifact related to browser check-ins to a restricted web page on the darkteam.retailer web site.


Not your typical watering gap

“With the forensic data we collected thus far, Dragos’ greatest evaluation is that an actor deployed the watering gap on the water infrastructure building firm web site to gather official browser information for the aim of enhancing the botnet malware’s capability to impersonate official internet browser exercise,” Backman wrote. “The botnet’s use of not less than ten totally different cipher handshakes or JA3 hashes, a few of which mimic official browsers, in comparison with the broadly revealed hash of a single handshake of a earlier Tofsee bot iteration, is proof of botnet enchancment.”

Dragos, which helps safe industrial management programs utilized by governments and personal firms, mentioned it initially fearful that the location posed a major menace due to its:

  • Concentrate on Florida
  • Temporal correlation to the Oldsmar intrusion
  • Extremely encoded and complex JavaScript
  • Few code places on the Web
  • Similarity to watering-hole assaults by different ICS-targeting exercise teams akin to DYMALLOY, ALLANITE, and RASPITE.

Finally, Dragos doesn’t consider the watering-hole web site served malware delivered any exploits or tried to achieve unauthorized entry to visiting computer systems. Plant staff, government officials later disclosed, used TeamViewer on an unsupported Home windows 7 PC to remotely entry SCADA programs that managed the water remedy course of. What’s extra, the TeamViewer password was shared amongst staff.

Backman, nonetheless, went on to say that the invention ought to however be a wake-up name. Olsdmar officers did not instantly reply to a request for remark.

“This isn’t a typical watering gap,” he wrote. “We’ve medium confidence it didn’t immediately compromise any group. However it does symbolize an publicity threat to the water {industry} and highlights the significance of controlling entry to untrusted web sites, particularly for Operational Expertise (OT) and Industrial Management System (ICS) environments.”

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