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The adversary is trying to gather data of interest and domain knowledge on your ICS environment to inform their goal.

Collection consists of techniques adversaries use to gather domain knowledge and obtain contextual feedback in an ICS environment. This tactic is often performed as part of Discovery, to compile data on control systems and targets of interest that may be used to follow through on the adversary’s objective. Examples of these techniques include observing operation states, capturing screenshots, identifying unique device roles, and gathering system and diagram schematics. Collection of this data can play a key role in planning, executing, and even revising an ICS-targeted attack. Methods of collection depend on the categories of data being targeted, which can include protocol specific, device specific, and process specific configurations and functionality. Information collected may pertain to a combination of system, supervisory, device, and network related data, which conceptually fall under high, medium, and low levels of plan operations. For example, information repositories on plant data at a high level or device specific programs at a low level. Sensitive floor plans, vendor device manuals, and other references may also be at risk and exposed on the internet or otherwise publicly accessible.

Techniques in this Tactics Category

Below is a list of all the Collection techniques in ATT&CK for ICS:

NameTacticsTechnical Description
Automated CollectionCollectionAdversaries may automate collection of industrial environment information using tools or scripts. This automated collection may leverage native control protocols and tools available in the control systems environment. For example, the OPC protocol may be used to enumerate and gather information. Access to a system or interface with these native protocols may allow collection and enumeration of other attached, communicating servers and devices.
Data from Information RepositoriesCollectionAdversaries may target and collect data from information repositories. This can include sensitive data such as specifications, schematics, or diagrams of control system layouts, devices, and processes. Examples of information repositories include reference databases or local machines in the process environment, as well as workstations and databases in the corporate network that might contain information about the ICS. 1

Information collected from these systems may provide the adversary with a better understanding of the operational environment, vendors used, processes, or procedures of the ICS.

In a campaign between 2011 and 2013 against ONG organizations, Chinese state-sponsored actors searched document repositories for specific information such as, system manuals, remote terminal unit (RTU) sites, personnel lists, documents that included the string “SCAD*”, user credentials, and remote dial-up access information.2
Detect Operating ModeCollectionAdversaries may gather information about a PLC’s or controller’s current operating mode. Operating modes dictate what change or maintenance functions can be manipulated and are often controlled by a key switch on the PLC (e.g., run, prog [program], and remote). Knowledge of these states may be valuable to an adversary to determine if they are able to reprogram the PLC. Operating modes and the mechanisms by which they are selected often vary by vendor and product line. Some commonly implemented operating modes are described below:
  • Program - This mode must be enabled before changes can be made to a device’s program. This allows program uploads and downloads between the device and an engineering workstation. Often the PLC’s logic Is halted, and all outputs may be forced off.3
  • Run - Execution of the device’s program occurs in this mode. Input and output (values, points, tags, elements, etc.) are monitored and used according to the program’s logic. Program Upload and Program Download are disabled while in this mode.4536
  • Remote - Allows for remote changes to a PLC’s operation mode.6
  • Stop - The PLC and program is stopped, while in this mode, outputs are forced off.5
  • Reset - Conditions on the PLC are reset to their original states. Warm resets may retain some memory while cold resets will reset all I/O and data registers.5
  • Test / Monitor mode - Similar to run mode, I/O is processed, although this mode allows for monitoring, force set, resets, and more generally tuning or debugging of the system. Often monitor mode may be used as a trial for initialization.4
I/O ImageCollectionAdversaries may seek to capture process values related to the inputs and outputs of a PLC. During the scan cycle, a PLC reads the status of all inputs and stores them in an image table.7 The image table is the PLC’s internal storage location where values of inputs/outputs for one scan are stored while it executes the user program. After the PLC has solved the entire logic program, it updates the output image table. The contents of this output image table are written to the corresponding output points in I/O Modules.

The Input and Output Image tables described above make up the I/O Image on a PLC. This image is used by the user program instead of directly interacting with physical I/O.8

Adversaries may collect the I/O Image state of a PLC by utilizing a device’s Native API to access the memory regions directly. The collection of the PLC’s I/O state could be used to replace values or inform future stages of an attack.
Man in the MiddleCollectionAdversaries with privileged network access may seek to modify network traffic in real time using man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks.9 This type of attack allows the adversary to intercept traffic to and/or from a particular device on the network. If a MITM attack is established, then the adversary has the ability to block, log, modify, or inject traffic into the communication stream. There are several ways to accomplish this attack, but some of the most-common are Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) poisoning and the use of a proxy.10

A MITM attack may allow an adversary to perform the following attacks:

Block Reporting Message, Spoof Reporting Message, Modify Parameter,

Unauthorized Command Message
Monitor Process StateCollectionAdversaries may gather information about the physical process state. This information may be used to gain more information about the process itself or used as a trigger for malicious actions. The sources of process state information may vary such as, OPC tags, historian data, specific PLC block information, or network traffic.
Point & Tag IdentificationCollectionAdversaries may collect point and tag values to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the process environment. Points may be values such as inputs, memory locations, outputs or other process specific variables.11 Tags are the identifiers given to points for operator convenience. Collecting such tags provides valuable context to environmental points and enables an adversary to map inputs, outputs, and other values to their control processes. Understanding the points being collected may inform an adversary on which processes and values to keep track of over the course of an operation.
Program UploadCollectionAdversaries may attempt to upload a program from a PLC to gather information about an industrial process. Uploading a program may allow them to acquire and study the underlying logic. Methods of program upload include vendor software, which enables the user to upload and read a program running on a PLC. This software can be used to upload the target program to a workstation, jump box, or an interfacing device.
Screen CaptureCollectionAdversaries may attempt to perform screen capture of devices in the control system environment. Screenshots may be taken of workstations, HMIs, or other devices that display environment-relevant process, device, reporting, alarm, or related data. These device displays may reveal information regarding the ICS process, layout, control, and related schematics. In particular, an HMI can provide a lot of important industrial process information.12 Analysis of screen captures may provide the adversary with an understanding of intended operations and interactions between critical devices.
Wireless SniffingDiscovery
Adversaries may seek to capture radio frequency (RF) communication used for remote control and reporting in distributed environments. RF communication frequencies vary between 3 kHz to 300 GHz, although are commonly between 300 MHz to 6 GHz.13 The wavelength and frequency of the signal affect how the signal propagates through open air, obstacles (e.g. walls and trees) and the type of radio required to capture them. These characteristics are often standardized in the protocol and hardware and may have an effect on how the signal is captured. Some examples of wireless protocols that may be found in cyber-physical environments are: WirelessHART, Zigbee, WIA-FA, and 700 MHz Public Safety Spectrum.

Adversaries may capture RF communications by using specialized hardware, such as software defined radio (SDR), handheld radio, or a computer with radio demodulator tuned to the communication frequency.14 Information transmitted over a wireless medium may be captured in-transit whether the sniffing device is the intended destination or not. This technique may be particularly useful to an adversary when the communications are not encrypted.15

In the 2017 Dallas Siren incident, it is suspected that adversaries likely captured wireless command message broadcasts on a 700 MHz frequency during a regular test of the system. These messages were later replayed to trigger the alarm systems.15