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 That meant infections were only possible on machines that were running outdated versions of the OS.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.