Tuesday’s massive ransomware outbreak was, in fact, something much worse

Enlarge / Code in Tuesday’s attack, shown on the left, was altered to permanently destroy hard drives. (credit: Matt Suiche)
Tuesday’s massive outbreak of malware that shut down computers around the world has been almost universally blamed on ransom…

Enlarge / Code in Tuesday's attack, shown on the left, was altered to permanently destroy hard drives. (credit: Matt Suiche)

Tuesday's massive outbreak of malware that shut down computers around the world has been almost universally blamed on ransomware, which by definition seeks to make money by unlocking data held hostage only if victims pay a hefty fee. Now, some researchers are drawing an even bleaker assessment—that the malware was a wiper with the objective of permanently destroying hard drives.

Initially, researchers said the malware was a new version of the Petya ransomware that first struck in early 2016. Later, researchers said it was a new, never-before-seen ransomware package that mimicked some of Petya's behaviors. With more time to analyze the malware, researchers on Wednesday are highlighting some curious behavior for a piece of malware that was nearly perfect in almost all other respects: its code is so aggressive that it's impossible for victims to recover their data.

In other words, the researchers said, the payload delivered in Tuesday's outbreak wasn't ransomware at all. Instead, its true objective was to permanently destroy as many hard drives as possible on infected networks, in much the way the Shamoon disk wiper left a wake of destruction in Saudi Arabia. Some researchers have said Shamoon is likely the work of developers sponsored by an as-yet unidentified country. Researchers analyzing Tuesday's malware—alternatively dubbed PetyaWrap, NotPetya, and ExPetr—are speculating the ransom note left behind in Tuesday's attack was, in fact, a hoax intended to capitalize on media interest sparked by last month's massive WCry outbreak.

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Advanced CIA firmware has been infecting Wi-Fi routers for years

Enlarge (credit: D-Link)
Home routers from 10 manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infec…

Enlarge (credit: D-Link)

Home routers from 10 manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infect connected devices. That's according to secret documents posted Thursday by WikiLeaks.

CherryBlossom, as the implant is code-named, can be especially effective against targets using some D-Link-made DIR-130 and Linksys-manufactured WRT300N models because they can be remotely infected even when they use a strong administrative password. An exploit code-named Tomato can extract their passwords as long as a default feature known as universal plug and play remains on. Routers that are protected by a default or easily-guessed administrative password are, of course, trivial to infect. In all, documents say CherryBlossom runs on 25 router models, although it's likely modifications would allow the implant to run on at least 100 more.

(credit: WikiLeaks)

The 175-page CherryBlossom user guide describes a Linux-based operating system that can run on a broad range of routers. Once installed, CherryBlossom turns the device into a "FlyTrap" that beacons a CIA-controlled server known as a "CherryTree." The beacon includes device status and security information that the CherryTree logs to a database. In response, the CherryTree sends the infected device a "Mission" consisting of specific tasks tailored to the target. CIA operators can use a "CherryWeb" browser-based user interface to view Flytrap status and security information, plan new missions, view mission-related data, and perform system administration tasks.

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Microsoft’s recent success in blocking in-the-wild attacks is eerily good

Enlarge (credit: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images News)
Microsoft engineers have neutralized a series of attacks that took control of targeted computers by exploiting independent vulnerabilities in Word and Windows. Remarkably, the software maker sai…

Enlarge (credit: Stephen Brashear / Getty Images News)

Microsoft engineers have neutralized a series of attacks that took control of targeted computers by exploiting independent vulnerabilities in Word and Windows. Remarkably, the software maker said fixes or partial mitigations for all four security bugs were released before it received private reports of the attacks.

Both versions of the attacks used malformed Word documents that were attached to phishing e-mails sent to a highly select group of targets. The malicious documents chained together two exploits, one that targeted flaws in an Encapsulated PostScript filter in Word and the other that targeted elevation-of-privilege bugs in Windows so that the attack could break out of the security sandbox that fortifies Office. Encapsulated PostScript is an old format that's rarely used any more.

One version of the attacks combined an exploit for a Word EPS flaw designated as CVE-2017-0261 with an exploit for CVE-2017-0001, a Windows privilege-escalation bug. By the time Microsoft received a private report of ongoing attacks in March, the company had already released a partial fix as part of its March Update Tuesday release. A second attack version exploited an EPS flaw indexed as CVE-2017-0262 in combination with CVE-2017-0263, a separate Windows privilege-elevation flaw.

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Microsoft Word 0-day used to push dangerous Dridex malware on millions

Enlarge / A sample e-mail from Dridex campaign exploiting Microsoft Word zero-day. (credit: Proofpoint)
Booby-trapped documents exploiting a critical zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Word have been sent to millions of people around the world in a…

Enlarge / A sample e-mail from Dridex campaign exploiting Microsoft Word zero-day. (credit: Proofpoint)

Booby-trapped documents exploiting a critical zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Word have been sent to millions of people around the world in a blitz aimed at installing Dridex, currently one of the most dangerous bank fraud threats on the Internet.

As Ars reported on Saturday, the vulnerability is notable because it bypasses exploit mitigations built into Windows, doesn't require targets to enable macros, and works even against Windows 10, which is widely considered Microsoft's most secure operating system ever. The flaw is known to affect most or all Windows versions of Word, but so far no one has ruled out that exploits might also be possible against Mac versions. Researchers from security firms McAfee and FireEye warned that the malicious Word documents are being attached to e-mails but didn't reveal the scope or ultimate objective of the campaign.

In a blog post published Monday night, researchers from Proofpoint filled in some of the missing details, saying the exploit documents were sent to millions of recipients across numerous organizations that were primarily located in Australia. Proofpoint researchers wrote:

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