One in seven ransomware extortion attacks leak critical OT data

Abstract image of a padlock above a large ransomware sign to symbolise cyber security
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Cyber security company Mandiant has found one in seven double-extortion ransomware attacks are leaking sensitive information that could provide access to physical systems.

The company found data stolen from ransomware victims related to operational technology (OT) systems, which are responsible for managing physical processes ranging from manufacturing equipment to energy distribution.

Data discovered included usernames and passwords for OT systems, IP addresses, remote services, asset tags, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) information, operator panels, and network diagrams.

This information, available for anyone to download from the dark web, renders companies more valuable to attack.

"Data from extortion leaks may provide sophisticated actors with information on targets, while limiting their exposure to defenders and cost of operations," the company said, adding that they can use it to makes it easier to launch more precise attacks with a higher impact.

In the study, Mandiant employees downloaded information stolen from ransomware victims and uploaded to 'shaming' sites after victims refused to pay up.

The company identified 1,300 extortion leaks released by ransomware groups in 2021 involving companies likely to use OT systems. It downloaded 70 of these leaks and analyzed the dumps looking for sensitive information.

Data discovered included in-depth network and process documentation for two oil and gas companies, including diagrams and spreadsheets. Mandiant's team also found names, user privileges, and passwords for IT, plant maintenance, and operations employees at a hydroelectric energy company.

Even file sets that did not contain critical OT data often contained administrative data spanning employees, finance, customers, and legal documentation, the company said.

Mandiant used its own publicly available FlareVM Windows-based penetration testing and malware analysis virtual machine for the analysis, along with Autopsy, an open-source tool for digital forensics.


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OT attacks are rife, according to recent research. In November, Skybox Security revealed that 83% of critical infrastructure companies have suffered at least one OT-related cyber breach in the last three years.

Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) warned critical infrastructure companies to be on the lookout for attacks from Russia. The advisory detailed OT attacks as a particular danger.

Danny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury has been a print journalist specialising in technology since 1989 and a freelance writer since 1994. He has written for national publications on both sides of the Atlantic and has won awards for his investigative cybersecurity journalism work and his arts and culture writing. 

Danny writes about many different technology issues for audiences ranging from consumers through to software developers and CIOs. He also ghostwrites articles for many C-suite business executives in the technology sector and has worked as a presenter for multiple webinars and podcasts.