NotPetya developers may have obtained NSA exploits weeks before their public leak

Enlarge / A computer screen displaying Eternalromance, one of the hacking tools dumped Friday by Shadow Brokers. (credit: Matthew Hickey)
Update:This post was revised throughout to reflect changes F-Secure made to Thursday’s blog post. The company n…

Enlarge / A computer screen displaying Eternalromance, one of the hacking tools dumped Friday by Shadow Brokers. (credit: Matthew Hickey)

Update:This post was revised throughout to reflect changes F-Secure made to Thursday's blog post. The company now says that the NotPetya component completed in February didn't have any definitive bearing on when the NSA exploits were obtained. F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan tells Ars that the component weaves in the NSA exploits so well that it's likely the developers had access to the NSA code. "It strongly hints at this possibility," he said. "We feel strongly that this is the best theory to debunk." This post is being revised to make clear the early access is currently an unproven theory.

The people behind Tuesday's massive malware outbreak might have had access to two National Security Agency-developed exploits several weeks before they were published on the Internet, according to evidence unearthed by researchers from antivirus F-Secure.

EternalBlue and EternalRomance, as the two exploits were codenamed, were two of more than a dozen hacking tools leaked on April 14 by an as-yet unknown group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. Almost immediately, blackhat and grayhat hackers used EternalBlue to compromise large numbers of computers running out-of-date versions of Microsoft Windows. Within a week or two, blackhats started using EternalBlue to install cryptomining malware. No one really noticed until the outbreak of the WCry ransomware worm on May 12, which infected an estimated 727,000 computers in 90 countries.

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A new ransomware outbreak similar to WCry is shutting down computers worldwide

Enlarge / This is the note that’s left on computers infected by PetyaWrap. (credit: Eset)
A new ransomware attack similar to last month’s self-replicating WCry outbreak is sweeping the world with at least 80 large companies infected, reportedly incl…

Enlarge / This is the note that's left on computers infected by PetyaWrap. (credit: Eset)

A new ransomware attack similar to last month's self-replicating WCry outbreak is sweeping the world with at least 80 large companies infected, reportedly including drug maker Merck, international shipping company Maersk, law firm DLA Piper, UK advertising firm WPP, and, snack food maker Mondelez International.

PetyaWrap, as the ransomware is called, uses the same potent National Security Agency exploit that allowed WCry to paralyze hospitals, shipping companies, and train stations in a matter of hours on May 12. EternalBlue, as the exploit was code-named by its NSA developers, was published in April by a still-unknown group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. The leak gave people with only moderate technical skills a powerful vehicle for delivering virtually any kind of digital warhead. Microsoft patched the underlying vulnerability in Windows 7 and 8.1 in March, and in a rare move the company issued fixes for unsupported Windows versions 24 hours after the WCry outbreak. That meant infections were only possible on machines that were running outdated versions of the OS.

PetyaWrap, according to researchers at antivirus provider F-Secure, uses a modified version of EternalBlue. There are also reports that it makes use of booby-trapped Microsoft Excel documents attached to phishing e-mails. The precise relationship between the malicious attachments and the EternalBlue exploit isn't yet clear. One possibility is that the e-mails are used to infect one or more computers in an organization and the ransomware than uses the NSA exploit to spread to other machines on the same network.

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Honda shuts down factory after finding NSA-derived Wcry in its networks

Enlarge (credit: S-8500)
The WCry ransomware worm has struck again, this time prompting Honda Company to halt production in one of its Japan-based factories after finding infections in a broad swath of its computer networks, according to media repor…

Enlarge (credit: S-8500)

The WCry ransomware worm has struck again, this time prompting Honda Company to halt production in one of its Japan-based factories after finding infections in a broad swath of its computer networks, according to media reports.

The automaker shut down its Sayama plant northwest of Tokyo on Monday after finding that WCry had affected networks across Japan, North America, Europe, China, and other regions, Reuters reported Wednesday. Discovery of the infection came on Sunday, more than five weeks after the onset of the NSA-derived ransomware worm, which struck an estimated 727,000 computers in 90 countries. The mass outbreak was quickly contained through a major stroke of good luck. A security researcher largely acting out of curiosity registered a mysterious domain name contained in the WCry code that acted as a global kill switch that immediately halted the self-replicating attack.

Honda officials didn't explain why engineers found WCry in their networks 37 days after the kill switch was activated. One possibility is that engineers had mistakenly blocked access to the kill-switch domain. That would have caused the WCry exploit to proceed as normal, as it did in the 12 or so hours before the domain was registered. Another possibility is that the WCry traces in Honda's networks were old and dormant, and the shutdown of the Sayama plant was only a precautionary measure. In any event, the discovery strongly suggests that as of Monday, computers inside the Honda network had yet to install a highly critical patch that Microsoft released in March.

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Win XP patched to avert new outbreaks spawned by NSA-leaking Shadow Brokers

(credit: Microsoft)
On Tuesday, Microsoft took the highly unusual step of issuing security patches for XP and other unsupported versions of Windows. The company did this in a bid to protect the OSes against a series of “destructive” exploits develop…

(credit: Microsoft)

On Tuesday, Microsoft took the highly unusual step of issuing security patches for XP and other unsupported versions of Windows. The company did this in a bid to protect the OSes against a series of "destructive" exploits developed by, and later stolen from, the National Security Agency.

By Ars' count, Tuesday is only the third time in Microsoft history that the company has issued free security updates for a decommissioned product. One of those came one day after last month's outbreak of the highly virulent "WCry" ransom worm, which repurposed NSA-developed exploits. The exploits were leaked by the Shadow Brokers, a mysterious group that somehow got hold of weaponized NSA hacking tools. (WCry is also known as "WannaCry" and "WannaCrypt.")

Tuesday's updates, this updated Microsoft post shows, include fixes for three other exploits that were also released by the Shadow Brokers. A Microsoft blog post announcing the move said the patches were prompted by an "elevated risk of destructive cyberattacks" by government organizations.

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