In a previous blog post we detailed the TRITON
intrusion that impacted industrial control systems (ICS) at a
critical infrastructure facility. We now track this activity set as
TEMP.Veles. In this blog post we provide additional information
linking TEMP.Veles and their activity surrounding the TRITON intrusion
to a Russian government-owned research institute.
TRITON Intrusion Demonstrates Russian Links; Likely Backed by
Russian Research Institute
FireEye Intelligence assesses with high confidence that intrusion
activity that led to deployment of TRITON was supported by the Central
Scientific Research Institute of Chemistry and Mechanics (CNIIHM;
a.k.a. ЦНИИХМ), a Russian government-owned technical research
institution located in Moscow. The following factors supporting this
assessment are further detailed in this post. We present as much
public information as possible to support this assessment, but
withheld sensitive information that further contributes to our high
FireEye uncovered malware
development activity that is very likely supporting TEMP.Veles
activity. This includes testing multiple versions of malicious
software, some of which were used by TEMP.Veles during the TRITON
Investigation of this testing activity reveals
multiple independent ties to Russia, CNIIHM, and a specific person
in Moscow. This person’s online activity shows significant links to
An IP address registered to CNIIHM has been employed
by TEMP.Veles for multiple purposes, including monitoring
open-source coverage of TRITON, network reconnaissance, and
malicious activity in support of the TRITON intrusion.
Behavior patterns observed in TEMP.Veles activity are consistent
with the Moscow time zone, where CNIIHM is located.
judge that CNIIHM likely possesses the necessary institutional
knowledge and personnel to assist in the orchestration and
development of TRITON and TEMP.Veles operations.
While we cannot rule out the possibility that one or more CNIIHM
employees could have conducted TEMP.Veles activity without their
employer’s approval, the details shared in this post demonstrate that
this explanation is less plausible than TEMP.Veles operating with the
support of the institute.
Malware Testing Activity Suggests Links between TEMP.Veles and CNIIHM
During our investigation of TEMP.Veles activity, we found multiple
unique tools that the group deployed in the target environment. Some
of these same tools, identified by hash, were evaluated in a malware
testing environment by a single user.
Malware Testing Environment Tied to TEMP.Veles
We identified a malware testing environment that we assess with high
confidence was used to refine some TEMP.Veles tools.
At times, the use of this
malware testing environment correlates to in-network activities of
TEMP.Veles, demonstrating direct operational support for intrusion
Four files tested in 2014 are based on the
open-source project, cryptcat. Analysis of these cryptcat
binaries indicates that the actor continually modified them to
decrease AV detection rates. One of these files was deployed in
a TEMP.Veles target’s network. The compiled version with the
least detections was later re-tested in 2017 and deployed less
than a week later during TEMP.Veles activities in the target
TEMP.Veles’ lateral movement activities used
a publicly-available PowerShell-based tool, WMImplant. On
multiple dates in 2017, TEMP.Veles struggled to execute this
utility on multiple victim systems, potentially due to AV
detection. Soon after, the customized utility was again
evaluated in the malware testing environment. The following day,
TEMP.Veles again tried the utility on a compromised system.
The user has been active in the malware testing
environment since at least 2013, testing customized versions of
multiple open-source frameworks, including Metasploit, Cobalt
Strike, PowerSploit, and other projects. The user’s development
patterns appear to pay particular attention to AV evasion and
alternative code execution techniques.
utilized by TEMP.Veles in investigations conducted by Mandiant are
typically weaponized versions of legitimate open-source software,
retrofitted with code used for command and control.
Testing, Malware Artifacts, and Malicious Activity Suggests Tie to CNIIHM
Multiple factors suggest that this activity is Russian in origin and
associated with CNIIHM.
A PDB path contained in a
tested file contained a string that appears to be a unique handle or
user name. This moniker is linked to a Russia-based person active in
Russian information security communities since at least 2011.
The handle has been credited with vulnerability research
contributions to the Russian version of Hacker Magazine
According to a now-defunct social media profile,
the same individual was a professor at CNIIHM, which is located
near Nagatinskaya Street in the Nagatino-Sadovniki district of
Another profile using the handle on a Russian
social network currently shows multiple photos of the user in
proximity to Moscow for the entire history of the profile.
Suspected TEMP.Veles incidents include malicious
activity originating from 220.127.116.11, which is registered to
This IP address has been used to monitor
open-source coverage of TRITON, heightening the probability of
an interest by unknown subjects, originating from this network,
in TEMP.Veles-related activities.
It also has engaged
in network reconnaissance against targets of interest to
The IP address has been tied to additional
malicious activity in support of the TRITON intrusion.
Multiple files have Cyrillic names and
Figure 1: Heatmap of TRITON attacker
operating hours, represented in UTC time
Behavior Patterns Consistent with Moscow Time Zone
Adversary behavioral artifacts further suggest the TEMP.Veles
operators are based in Moscow, lending some further support to the
scenario that CNIIHM, a Russian research organization in Moscow, has
been involved in TEMP.Veles activity.
We identified file creation times for numerous files that
TEMP.Veles created during lateral movement on a target’s network.
These file creation times conform to a work schedule typical of an
actor operating within a UTC+3 time zone (Figure 1) supporting a
proximity to Moscow.
Figure 2: Modified service config
artifacts recovered from TEMP.Veles toolsets are also consistent
with such a regional nexus.
A ZIP archive recovered during
our investigations, schtasks.zip, contained an installer and
uninstaller of CATRUNNER that includes two versions of an XML
scheduled task definitions for a masquerading service
The malicious installation version
has a task name and description in English, and the clean
uninstall version has a task name and description in Cyrillic.
The timeline of modification dates within the ZIP also suggest
the actor changed the Russian version to English in sequential
order, heightening the possibility of a deliberate effort to
mask its origins (Figure 2).
Figure 3: Central Research Institute of
Chemistry and Mechanics (CNIIHM) (Google Maps)
CNIIHM Likely Possesses Necessary Institutional Knowledge and
Personnel to Create TRITON and Support TEMP.Veles Operations
While we know that TEMP.Veles deployed the TRITON attack framework,
we do not have specific evidence to prove that CNIIHM did (or did not)
develop the tool. We infer that CNIIHM likely maintains the
institutional expertise needed to develop and prototype TRITON based
on the institute’s self-described mission and other public information.
CNIIHM has at least two
research divisions that are experienced in critical infrastructure,
enterprise safety, and the development of weapons/military
The Center for Applied Research creates
means and methods for protecting critical infrastructure from
destructive information and technological impacts.
Center for Experimental Mechanical Engineering develops
weapons as well as military and special equipment. It also
researches methods for enabling enterprise safety in emergency
CNIIHM officially collaborates
with other national technology and development organizations,
The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology
(PsyTech), which specializes in applied physics, computing
science, chemistry, and biology.
The Association of
State Scientific Centers “Nauka,” which coordinates 43
Scientific Centers of the Russian Federation (SSC RF). Some of
its main areas of interest include nuclear physics, computer
science and instrumentation, robotics and engineering, and
electrical engineering, among others.
Service for Technical and Export Control (FTEC) which is
responsible for export control, intellectual property, and
protecting confidential information.
Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences (PAPAH) which
specializes in research and development for strengthening
Russia’s defense industrial complex.
Information from a Russian recruitment website, linked to CNIIHM’s
official domain, indicates that CNIIHM is also dedicated to the
development of intelligent systems for computer-aided design and
control, and the creation of new information technologies (Figure
Figure 4: CNIIHM website homepage
Primary Alternative Explanation Unlikely
Some possibility remains that one or more CNIIHM employees could
have conducted the activity linking TEMP.Veles to CNIIHM without their
employer’s approval. However, this scenario is highly unlikely.
In this scenario, one or
more persons – likely including at least one CNIIHM employee, based
on the moniker discussed above – would have had to conduct
extensive, high-risk malware development and intrusion activity from
CNIIHM’s address space without CNIIHM’s knowledge and approval over
CNIIHM’s characteristics are consistent
with what we might expect of an organization responsible for
TEMP.Veles activity. TRITON is a highly specialized framework whose
development would be within the capability of a low percentage of