Organizations in multiple countries have been reportedly hit in what appears to be the second global-scale ransomware attack in the last two months.
The fast-spreading outbreak has so far disrupted many organizations, including those in critical infrastructure sectors, in Russia, Ukraine, France, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, and India.
Among those believed to have already fallen victim to the ongoing campaign are Russia's top oil company Rosneft, Danish shipping giant A.P Moller-Maersk, Russian metals manufacturer Evraz, Ukraine's Boryspyl Airport, US pharmaceutical company Merck, and radiation detection systems at Chernobyl.
Several security vendors today described the outbreak as similar to the WannaCry pandemic from last month in some aspects and different in others. The biggest difference is that the new attacks appear more professional and harder to stop via a killswitch like the one that took the wind out of WannaCry's sails.
"A clever security researcher was able to capitalize on a careless mistake made by the attackers behind WannaCry," to stop that threat, F-Secure security advisor Sean Sullivan said in a statement. "WannaCry’s attackers failed because they couldn’t handle the number of victims they created."
But the new campaign comes across as more professional. "Amateur hour is definitely over when it comes to launching global ransomware attacks," he said.
Kaspersky Lab said that its telemetry data as of Tuesday afternoon indicates at least 2,000 organizations have been impacted, most of them based either in Russia or Ukraine. The data also shows victims in Poland, Italy, the UK, Germany, France and the United States, Kaspersky Lab said.
Some security vendors tracking the virulent new threat identified the ransomware sample as GoldenEye, a variant of Petya, a pernicious malware threat that has been around for at least one year. That analysis appears to be based at least partly on the fact that the latest malware has been encrypting the Master Boot Record (MBR) on infected systems like Petya did, to prevent victims from trying to get rid of it by rebooting.
But others, like Kasperksy Lab, said their initial analysis showed the malware to be completely new and not seen previously. Chris Wysopal, co-founder and CTO of Veracode, said while the ongoing campaign has similar characteristics to Petya, the fact that only two AV products were able to detect it initially suggests it is new.
Like the WannaCry epidemic from May, the new malware has been propagating through Server Message Block (SMB) shares using the National Security Agency's (NSA) leaked EternalBlue exploit to spread to systems. Unlike WannaCry though, the new malware, which some have taken to calling NotPetya, also uses a previously known code execution vulnerability in WordPad and Microsoft Office [CVE 2017-0199] to propagate.
Risk Based Security described the Office and WordPad vulnerability as one that was first exploited back in October 2016 to deliver a spyware tool called FINSPY and later the Dridex banking Trojan. Microsoft issued a patch for the flaw this April.
Researchers at Cyphort said their analysis showed the malware's initial distribution method to be a malicious link in an email sent from an unknown source. In addition to SMB shares the new malware can also spread laterally to systems on an infected network using the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) feature. Cyphort said its researchers had observed some payloads to include a variant of the Loki Bot information stealing Trojan for extracting usernames and passwords from infected systems.
Victims are being asked to pay the equivalent of $300 in Bitcoin for their data to get unlocked.
"GoldenEye is a particularly virulent strain of the Petya ransomware that leverages the bones of Petya, but course-corrects weak spots in the original Petya strain," said Eldon Sprickerhoff, founder and chief security strategist at cyber security firm eSentire. Its creators have made it more effective by leveraging exploits associated with WannaCry, he said.
The wildfire-like nature in which the new malware appears to be spreading has once again highlighted the tremendous risk organizations are exposed to when they do not patch known vulnerabilities in a timely manner.
"This new Petya variant is spreading using the same NSA exploit employed by the WannaCry ransomware that made waves last month," says Lenny Zeltser, vice president of products at Minerva, an Israel-based provider of endpoint security tools.
"The rapid spread of this Petya variant shows that many companies have not implemented basic precautions, such as applying Microsoft's patch or segmenting the network and blocking unnecessary protocols, which would have blocked this propagation mechanism."
Galina Antova, co-founder of Claroty, described the situation as still evolving. "We will know more about the malware involved - and get better insights into the potential actors behind this wave of attacks - as we conclude analysis of samples in our lab over the next few hours," she says.
It is unclear yet whether what is going on is a resurgence of attacks from the same actors as that behind WannaCry or an entirely new campaign taking from lessons learned.
"What 2017 is showing us is a new threat landscape where targeted or spillover attacks are impacting the most critical industries," Antova says. "It's a matter of time before we see wide spread impact that will have immediate and reverberating consequences for the global economy. The game is changing and we need to move quickly to better secure our most critical networks."
Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio