Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

5/17/2018
07:00 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Get Ready for 'WannaCry 2.0'

Another widespread worm attack is "inevitable," but spreading a different more lucrative or destructive payload, experts say.

They're still out there, pinging away for vulnerable Sever Message Block (SMB) services in order to find a way in. One year after the historic and massive WannaCry ransomware attack unleashed by nation-state hackers from North Korea, an unknown number of WannaCry-infected Windows machines in their zombie state around the globe continue to attack other devices.

WannaCry marked the biggest ransomware attack ever, but it wasn't the first widespread worm infection, and experts say it won't be the last. Symantec blocked some 5.4 billion WannaCry attack attempts last year overall.

Security experts say another worm-spreading mass attack akin to WannaCry is inevitable. It may not be a ransomware attack, but it likely will be another SMB-type worm that exploits the fact that so many organizations leave Windows machines unattended and with open ports to the Internet — and unpatched for the newest flaws.

"It's just a matter of time," says Dan Wiley, head of incident response at Check Point, of the next WannaCry. "It will happen again, no question in my mind."

A "WannaCry 2.0"-type attack could be more of a data-wiping campaign akin to NotPetya, which posed as a ransomware attack but in reality was destroying the data it locked down rather than locking it up for ransom. Or it could be a widespread cryptojacking campaign that could more easily net attackers more profit and a lower-profile, less-noticeable attack method than ransomware.

Worms tend to wreak havoc quickly and loudly, so it depends on the attacker's intent. "If you want to be destructive," a worm is a quick way to spread pain, like the data-wiping NotPetya worm did, notes Chris Wysopal, CTO and co-founder of Veracode. He doesn't believe WannaCry was meant to spread as widely as it did because its high visibility led to its demise as a not-so-profitable ransomware attack.

"If you don't go wormable, you're not going to get noticed for months," Wysopal says.

The thing about worms, though, is that they never really die. Security firms and researchers today still see remnants of the epic 2003 SQLSlammer worm attack, and even the mysterious Conficker worm from early 2009. "Any time you have one of these worms [out], they are never going to go away," says Craig Williams, senior threat researcher and global outreach manager for Cisco Talos.

Keeping the worm alive are older and forgotten machines that don't get the security patch. "You're always going to have some number of machines connected to the network that are going to be patched and they ping packets around for all time," Williams says.

WannaCry's abuse of the EternalBlue exploit basically let the cat out of the bag, and other worms continue to employ it, Williams says. The good news, though, is that WannaCry itself is at least declining in infections. "We're confident that it's decreasing, but we don't see it going away."

Large organizations for the most part have updated their Windows machines and revisited their SMB policies, but smaller and midsized companies in healthcare, education, and other industries most likely remain at risk. Check Point's incident response team sees four to five cases of ransomware attacks per week, mostly in the networks of small- to midsized organizations.

"It's really simple: almost every one of the cases we worked, the customer had RDP [Remote Desktop Protocol] exposed to the Internet," he says, leaving the network vulnerable to WannaCry's SMB exploit.

Juniper Networks reports seeing 2.3 million devices in the US, UAE, Russia, Taiwan, and Japan, still leaving their SMBv1 protocol port exposed to the public Internet.

Mayday

It all began on May 12, 2017. WannaCry suddenly spread like wildfire via a Windows SMB flaw Microsoft had patched in March of that year after an NSA hacking exploit called EternalBlue that abused the flaw was leaked online. The worm was used to automatically and rapidly propagate the ransomware part of the attack, locking victims out of their files in exchange for Bitcoin payments of $300 to $600. In the end, WannaCry infected some 230,000 machines in 150 countries, and by some accounts netted North Korea a relatively measly $140,000 in ransom profit overall.

UK hospitals were the first high-profile victims, followed by all types of companies including car manufacturers like Nissan and Honda, Telefonica in Spain, and aerospace giant Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

The EternalBlue attack exploited a critical remote code execution flaw (MS17-010) in Windows that let an attacker hack Microsoft Server Message Block (SMBv1) server systems, which Microsoft patched on March 17, 2017. 

WannaCry basically exposed poor patching practices, as well as weak management of SMB ports. It was also a wakeup call for how narrow the window has become between vulnerability disclosure and exploitation by attackers in the wild.

WannaCry 2.0
The next big worm attack is not likely to resemble a mass ransomware attack like WannaCry. While WannaCry was a relative financial failure for North Korea, it did wreak havoc and chaos. "I think it was a colossal fail," says Cisco's Williams. "I'm not sure if test code got out or somebody's science project for a future attack. It was poorly built and it didn't work very well," he says, pointing to WannaCry's gap in tracking ransom payments as well as cracks in the exploit.

Ransomware in the wake of WannaCry has become more targeted, while cryptojacking attacks have surged practically overnight. "It's more low-risk" and profitable for attackers, Williams says. "And we're absolutely going to continue to see that" trend, he says.

WannaCry 2.0 could be a stealthy cryptojacking campaign that only mines during off-hours when businesses are closed, for example.

Larry Cashdollar, senior engineer for Akamai's security response team, says he expects a worm attack to spread cryptojacking malware. "That's probably going to be the next phase of attacks. And there are other not-yet-disclosed vulnerabilities our nation or other nation-states know about" that could be exploited for them, he says.

But nation-states could opt for a NotPetya-like worm attack that destroys data altogether in a targeted attack meant to wreak chaos and confusion, experts say. "NotPetya was the type of worm we lose sleep over," Williams says. "It was written by a well-funded, organized attacker that absolutely understands everything about compromising machines."

The good news, according to Symantec director of security response Kevin Haley, is that the industry in general has better defenses for worms than it did a decade ago. "We were in a much better place to block this than we were 10 years ago," Haley says. "A patch was available and security vendors had protections, so there's reason for optimism" if something similar hits again.

"Hopefully, while we will see more of these [worm attacks], we will be better at this" on the defense side, he says.

Related Content:

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
PeterB-man
50%
50%
PeterB-man,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/15/2019 | 1:35:45 AM
Why will this worm not be as massive as WannaCry?
Somewhere in the article it says:

"The next big worm attack is not likely to resemble a mass ransomware attack like WannaCry. "

I disagree. I think RDP is more likely to be exposed to the internet than SMB. 

What is more likely to be found on the internet:
A. Remote login via username/password
B. Your internal Fileserver/NAS.

 

 
Windows 10 Migration: Getting It Right
Kevin Alexandra, Principal Solutions Engineer at BeyondTrust,  5/15/2019
Baltimore Ransomware Attack Takes Strange Twist
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  5/14/2019
When Older Windows Systems Won't Die
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  5/17/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-12184
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-19
There is XSS in browser/components/MarkdownPreview.js in BoostIO Boostnote 0.11.15 via a label named flowchart, sequence, gallery, or chart, as demonstrated by a crafted SRC attribute of an IFRAME element, a different vulnerability than CVE-2019-12136.
CVE-2019-12173
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-18
MacDown 0.7.1 (870) allows remote code execution via a file:\\\ URI, with a .app pathname, in the HREF attribute of an A element. This is different from CVE-2019-12138.
CVE-2019-12172
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-17
Typora 0.9.9.21.1 (1913) allows arbitrary code execution via a modified file: URL syntax in the HREF attribute of an AREA element, as demonstrated by file:\\\ on macOS or Linux, or file://C| on Windows. This is different from CVE-2019-12137.
CVE-2019-12168
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-17
Four-Faith Wireless Mobile Router F3x24 v1.0 devices allow remote code execution via the Command Shell (aka Administration > Commands) screen.
CVE-2019-12170
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-17
ATutor through 2.2.4 is vulnerable to arbitrary file uploads via the mods/_core/backups/upload.php (aka backup) component. This may result in remote command execution. An attacker can use the instructor account to fully compromise the system using a crafted backup ZIP archive. This will allow for PH...