Saturday, 13 May 2017

An NSA-derived ransomware shutting down computers worldwide

An NSA-derived ransomware worm is shutting down computers worldwide

Wcry uses weapons-grade exploit published by the NSA-leaking Shadow Brokers

12 May, 2017
A highly virulent new strain of self-replicating ransomware is shutting down computers all over the world, in part by appropriating a National Security Agency exploit that was publicly released last month by the mysterious group calling itself Shadow Brokers.
The malware, known as Wanna, Wannacry, or Wcry, has infected at least 75,000 computers, according to antivirus provider Avast. AV provider Kaspersky Lab said organizations in at least 74 countries have been affected, with Russia being disproportionately affected, followed by Ukraine, India, and Taiwan. Infections are also spreading through the United States. The malware is notable for its multi-lingual ransom demands, which support more than two-dozen languages.
Wcry is reportedly causing disruptions at banks, hospitals, telecommunications services, and other mission-critical organizations in multiple countries, including the UK, Spain, Germany, and Turkey. FedEx, the UK government's National Health Service, and Spanish telecom Telefonica have all been hit. The Spanish CERT has called it a "massive ransomware attack" that is encrypting all the files of entire networks and spreading laterally through organizations.

Remember Code Red?

Another cause for concern: wcry copies a weapons-grade exploit codenamed Eternalblue that the NSA used for years to remotely commandeer computers running Microsoft Windows. Eternalblue, which works reliably against computers running Microsoft Windows XP through Windows Server 2012, was one of several potent exploits published in the most recent Shadow Brokers release in mid-April. The Wcry developers have combined the Eternalblue exploit with a self-replicating payload that allows the ransomware to spread virally from vulnerable machine to vulnerable machine, without requiring operators to open e-mails, click on links, or take any other sort of action.
So-called worms, which spread quickly amid a chain of attacks, are among the most virulent forms of malware. Researchers are still investigating how Wcry takes hold. The awesome power of worms came to the world's attention in 2001 when Code Red managed to infect more than 359,000 Windows computers around the world in 14 hours.
"The initial infection vector is something we are still trying to find out," Adam Kujawa, a researcher at antivirus provider Malwarebytes, told Ars. "Considering that this attack seems targeted, it might have been either through a vulnerability in the network defenses or a very well-crafted spear phishing attack. Regardless, it is spreading through infected networks using the EternalBlue vulnerability, infecting additional unpatched systems.

It's not clear if the Eternalblue exploit is Wcry's sole means of spreading or if it has multiple methods of propagating. In an update that was notable for its unlikely and extremely fortuitous timing, Microsoft patched the underlying vulnerability in March, exactly four weeks before the Shadow Brokers' April release published the weapons-grade NSA exploit. The rapid outbreak of Wcry may be an indication that many, or possibly all, of the companies hit had yet to install a critical Windows patch more than two months after it was releaseOther organizations in Spain known to be disrupted include telecom Vodafone Espana, the KPMG consultancy, banks BBVA and Santander, and power company Iberdrola. The Blackpool Victoria Hospital in the UK reportedly pleaded for patients to seek treatment only for life-threatening emergencies after Wcry crippled its network. Portugal Telecom has also reported being infected. Meanwhile, Barts Health Hospital in London is redirecting ambulances to other facilities.
According to an article posted by Madrid-based El Mundo, 85 percent of computers at Telefonica, Spain's dominant telecom, are affected by the worm, although that figure has not been confirmed. Officials at Telefonica and Spanish energy companies Iberdrola and Gas Natural Fenosa have all instructed employees to shut down computers. While the paper confirmed an attack on Telefonica, it said it was not yet clear if the other two companies had been infected or if they ordered the shutdown as a preventative measure.
Wcry is demanding a ransom of $300 to $600 in Bitcoin to be paid by May 15, or, in the event that deadline is missed, a higher fee by May 19. The messages left on the screen say files will remain encrypted. It's not yet clear if there are flaws in the encryption scheme that might allow the victims to restore the files without paying the ransom.
People who have yet to install the Microsoft fix—MS17-010—should do so right away. People should also be extremely suspicious of all e-mails they receive, particularly those that ask the recipient to open attached documents or click on Web links.





12 May, 2017

In mid-April, an arsenal of powerful software tools apparently designed by the NSA to infect and control Windows computers was leaked by an entity known only as the “Shadow Brokers.” Not even a whole month later, the hypothetical threat that criminals would use the tools against the general public has become real, and tens of thousands of computers worldwide are now crippled by an unknown party demanding ransom.

An infected NHS computer in Britain

Gillian Hann

The malware worm taking over the computers goes by the names “WannaCry” or “Wanna Decryptor.” It spreads from machine to machine silently and remains invisible to users until it unveils itself as so-called ransomware, telling users all their files have been encrypted with a key known only to the attacker and that they will be locked out until they pay $300 to an anonymous party using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. At this point, one’s computer would be rendered useless for anything other than paying said ransom. The price rises to $600 after a few days; after seven days, if no ransom is paid, the hacker (or hackers) will make the data permanently inaccessible (WannaCry victims will have a handy countdown clock to see exactly how much time they have left).

Ransomware is not new; for victims, such an attack is normally a colossal headache. But today’s vicious outbreak has spread ransomware on a massive scale, hitting not just home computers but reportedly healthcare, communications infrastructure, logistics, and government entities.

Reuters says “hospitals across England reported the cyber attack was causing huge problems to their services and the public in areas affected were being advised to only seek medical care for emergencies,” and that “the attack had affected X-ray imaging systems, pathology test results, phone systems and patient administration systems.”

The worm has also reportedly reached universities, a major Spanish telecom,FedEx, and the Russian Interior Ministry. In total, researchers have detected WannaCry infections in over 57,000 computers across over 70 countries (and counting–these things move extremely quickly).

According to experts tracking and analyzing the worm and its spread, this could be one of the worst-ever recorded attacks of its kind. The security researcher who tweets and blogs as MalwareTech told The Intercept “I’ve never seen anything like this with ransomware,” and “the last worm of this degree I can remember is Conficker.” Conficker was a notorious Windows worm first spotted in 2008; it went on to infect over nine million computers in nearly 200 countries.

Most importantly, unlike previous massively replicating computer worms and ransomware infections, today’s ongoing WannaCry attack appears to be based on an attack developed by the NSA, codenamed ETERNALBLUE. The U.S. software weapon would have allowed the spy agency’s hackers to break into potentially millions of Windows computers by exploiting a flaw in how certain version of Windows implemented a network protocol commonly used to share files and to print. Even though Microsoft fixed the ETERNALBLUE vulnerability in a March software update, the safety provided there relied on computer users keeping their systems current with the most recent updates. Clearly, as has always been the case, many people (including in government) are not installing updates. Before, there would have been some solace in knowing that only enemies of the NSA would have to fear having ETERNALBLUE used against them–but from the moment the agency lost control of its own exploit last summer, there’s been no such assurance. Today shows exactly what’s at stake when government hackers can’t keep their virtual weapons locked up. As security researcher Matthew Hickey, who tracked the leaked NSA tools last month, put it, “I am actually surprised that a weaponized malware of this nature didn’t spread sooner.”

Screenshot of an infected computer via Avast

The infection will surely reignite arguments over what’s known as the Vulnerabilities Equity Process, the decision-making procedure used to decide whether the NSA should use a security weakness it discovers (or creates) for itself and keep it secret, or share it with the affected companies so that they can protect their customers. Christopher Parsons, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, told The Intercept plainly: “Today’s ransomware attack is being made possible because of past work undertaken by the NSA,” and that “ideally it would lead to more disclosures that would improve the security of devices globally.”

But even if the NSA were more willing to divulge its exploits rather than hoarding them, we’d still be facing the problem that too many people really don’t seem to care about updating their software. “Malicious actors exploit years old vulnerabilities on a routine basis when undertaking their operations,” Parsons pointed out. “There’s no reason that more aggressive disclose of vulnerabilities through the VEP would change such activities.”

A Microsoft spokesperson provided the following comment:
Today our engineers added detection and protection against new malicious software known as Ransom:Win32.WannaCrypt. In March, we provided a security update which provides additional protections against this potential attack. Those who are running our free antivirus software and have Windows updates enabled, are protected. We are working with customers to provide additional assistance.”

Update: May 12th, 2017 3:45 p.m.
This post was updated with a comment from Microsoft.

Update: May 12th, 2017, 4:10 p.m.
This post was updated with a more current count of the number of affected countries.

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