Security Experts:

Industry Reactions to WannaCry Ransomware Attacks

The WannaCry ransomware, also known as Wanna Decryptor, WanaCrypt0r, WannaCrypt, Wana Decrypt0r and WCry, has infected more than 200,000 devices worldwide. The attacks affected banks, hospitals, ISPs, government agencies, transportation companies and manufacturing plants.

While the campaign has earned the attackers more than $50,000 in just a few days, some experts are not convinced that profit-driven cybercriminals are behind the operation, and suggested that it could be the work of a nation-state actor, including one sponsored by North Korea.

The attacks involved exploits dubbed EternalBlue and DoublePulsar, both leaked recently by a hacker group calling itself Shadow Brokers. The exploits were allegedly used by a threat actor called the Equation Group, which has been linked to the NSA.

The EternalBlue exploit leverages a Server Message Block (SMB) vulnerability in Windows that can be exploited remotely without user interaction, which is the main reason why the ransomware managed to wreak havoc.

The flaw was patched by Microsoft in March and the company has even made available fixes for outdated versions of Windows. However, many organizations have not installed the patches and in the case of industrial control systems (ICS), which are also at risk, the situation is more complicated.

Industry professionals shared thoughts on the WannaCry attacks, including the ICS, insurance, legal, cybersecurity strategy, attribution and other aspects of the story.

And the feedback begins…

Phil Neray, VP of Industrial Cybersecurity, CyberX:

“At the risk of sounding overly paranoid, I find it hard to believe that someone would orchestrate a global coordinated attack like this just to earn 50 thousand dollars. Security guru Bruce Schneier recently wrote that Russia and other nation-states often commit cyber-actions just for bragging purposes. For me, it's completely tenable that WannaCry is simply the Russians bragging they're already so deep into our critical infrastructure that we can't do anything about it.

 

Either way, it's worth noting that many of the SCADA applications embedded in our electrical grid and manufacturing plants were developed years ago and are tethered to older versions of Windows -- so the fix isn't going to be easy.

 

In the meantime, we should treat this attack as a persistent threat and continuously monitor both IT and OT networks for unusual activity. After all, how do we know that the same vulnerabilities haven't already been well-exploited for cyber-reconnaissance and cyber-espionage purposes? Or, that this isn't just the first phase of a more elaborate targeted campaign with the goal of causing massive disruption to our critical infrastructure and our economies?"

Wendi Whitmore, Global Lead, IBM X-Force IRIS:

“Based on IBM X-Force analysis of over 500M spam e-mails, it seems likely the initial victims of the WannaCry ransomware did not get infected by opening a malicious e-mail or attachments. This means that criminals might have compromised systems by other means. This makes finding “patient zero” even more critical in the investigation. IBM X-Force is actively working with clients and law enforcement to track down this data.


Since Asia and Europe have come online today we’ve seen a modest increase in the amount of victims paying the ransom. So far, cybercriminals have pulled in $54,877.46 which continues to grow at ~1 BTC per hour.


Given the widespread propagation of the WannaCry ransomware in Eastern Europe and Asia, our research team suggests that these regions may be using older Microsoft software that is unsupported or pirated.”

Joe Facciponti, attorney with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft:

“The ransomware attack raises the possibility that victims will face regulatory enforcement actions and civil litigation in the U.S. and elsewhere. Indeed, last fall the former Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) warned U.S. businesses, in the context of addressing ransomware, that a company’s “unreasonable” failure to patch vulnerabilities might be cause for an enforcement action under the FTC Act. Further, the possibility of harm to consumers – particular those who are potentially harmed by the loss of sensitive medical or financial data – raise the possibility of costly class action litigation against companies that are the victims of ransomware attacks.”

Bill Kelly, Senior Vice President, E&O Underwriting, Argo Group:

“Watching this story continue to unravel, has truly highlighted the need for cyber insurance. Any company can experience a vulnerability no matter how prepared they think they are. While ransomware can result in a company paying small, very random amounts, business interruption can be much more significant and can potentially cost millions.

 

There will always be a vulnerability that can’t be controlled and from an insurance standpoint, this is validation for the industry. In addition to having companies properly train their employees and ensure that they are up to speed on the importance of updating software patches in a consistent routine and have backup plans in place, it pays to have cyber insurance. Cybersecurity breaches are a reality every business must think about and having a whole team dedicated to helping you when something like this happens - from breach coaches and responders to forensic investigators - it's the best way to mitigate damages. We're continuing to learn from attacks like these by researching and working with industry experts to better understand the best ways to mitigate losses for our clients.”

Jackson Shaw, senior director of product management at One Identity:

“I applaud Microsoft for making the bold move to patch older, unsupported operating systems. They are under no obligation to do so and the organizations that did not upgrade their systems despite Microsoft’s statements that the OSes were moving to an unsupported state must accept the risk and responsibility for their decision. I liken it to this: when was the last time you took your eight year old car in for service and the repair shop said, “Don’t worry. I’ll just find that part which is no longer being produced and have it here in twelve hours for you…free of charge.” That’s what Microsoft did.

 

Will Microsoft’s release of a patch encourage organizations NOT to upgrade older systems? Probably. But what a shame that will be. If they don’t, they will be hacked again. And again. And again.

 

I applaud Microsoft’s desire to have a Digital Geneva Convention but at the same time, feel it’s a bit naïve. Attacking a civilian or a hospital with a grenade is far easier to spot and track than cyber weapons. And honestly, do we expect hackers, people who are behind these dreadful attacks, to adhere to some ethical set of guidelines? I think not.”

Barak Perelman, CEO, Indegy:

“The first response to this threat is to make sure all Windows-based machines are patched - this is a standard best practice. However, in industrial environments not all systems can be patched, since some support continuous operations that must operate 24X7. Such systems can't be restarted for example. There are also concerns around system availability and stability associated with deploying security patches.

 

Meanwhile, non-Windows based systems in industrial networks are also exposed to cyber threats and are much more difficult to protect. This includes the critical automation controllers (PLCs, RTUs and DCS controllers) that can't be easily patched, or don't have patches available. To make matters worse, due to the lack of encryption and access controls in industrial networks, attackers do not need to exploit vulnerabilities in order to compromise these critical control devices and shutdown operations.”

Brad Hegrat, Director of Advisory Services, IOActive:

“Historically, general purpose, run of the mill malware that leverages SMB and NetBIOS interfaces in the industrial environment are particularly troublesome, with many systems remaining infected many years later.

[...]

With the WannaCry/WanaCrypt ransomware in the wild, crossing into industrial control systems would be particularly devastating. Systems requiring real-time interfacing and control influence over physical assets could face safety/critical shutdown, or worse. When thinking about critical services to modern society (power, water, wastewater, etc.), there is a real potential, potentially for the first time ever, where critical services could be suspended due to ransomware. It may be time to rethink critical infrastructure cybersecurity engineering, because if MS17-010 exploiting malware variants are successful, we are clearly doing something wrong.”

Kevin Curran, IEEE Senior Member and Cybersecurity Professor at Ulster University:

“The spread of the attack was brought to a sudden halt when one UK cybersecurity researcher found and inadvertently activated a “kill switch” in the malicious software. It turns out that the virus was coded to check to see if an obscure website address was registered and live and to halt if this was the case. It was effectively a kill switch. This however can easily be overcome in a modified release which is what has already happened. Yes, this has indeed slowed the initial attack but this is only the first wave of such wormable ransomware attacks.

 

Finally, the warnings that security experts have been sounding for years has finally come to the attention of the public - that is that more money needs to be spent on cybersecurity and that organizations need to run modern patched operating systems and educate their staff in safe computing and of course to simply back up. Regular off premises (or non-network attached) backups would have prevented this modern nightmare.”

Chris Goettl, product manager at Ivanti:

“Most effective malware has the ability to adapt and use a number of exploits to infect and propagate. We are witnessing a jackpot or perfect storm combination that has allowed this attack to be so effective so quickly. It reminds me of incidents like Conficker, where all the right exploits came together to create the Mona Lisa of cyber attacks.

 

One tweet criticized Edward Snowden and called out the NSA for not privately disclosing the SMBv1 exploit when they first discovered it. While I do not condone agencies for discovering exploits and keeping them quiet, which puts us at long term risk, this vulnerability had the potential to contribute just as badly to an attack of this magnitude, regardless. Think about it: whether the vulnerability was disclosed a year ago or just recently, a knowledgeable attacker would have taken advantage of the vulnerability. This update, regardless of when it was released, made a change in the handling of SMB traffic which could cause significant issues when rolling out an update.”

Moshe Ben-Simon, co-founder & VP services at Trapx:

“Due to compliance regulations, such as HIPPA, healthcare network admins cannot easily update Internet connected medical devices with the newest operating systems and patches. These devices are sealed to protect the equipment from failure in the event a software update inadvertently affects the operation of the device. While this ultimately protects patients from potential harm from a malfunctioning device, it has the potential leave the network open to attackers who are finding new ways to exploit old vulnerabilities, such as the recent WannaCry attack. If these devices aren’t updated by the manufacturers immediately, they will continue to be susceptible to these types of attacks.

 

To better protect hospital networks that are using Internet connected medical devices, we recommend, reviewing and beefing up backup processes. It becomes essential to have an offsite backup on a daily basis. More important is a robust, tested, disaster recovery process that ensures core IT systems can be brought back up in a few hours. Most hospitals have backup in place to support compliance, of course, but really cannot restore key applications and recover operations fast enough in the face of a ransomware attack. When an environment faces a true disaster, even a well-planned disaster recovery strategy will typically take days until full operations are restored. Do the work to make sure this takes only a few hours.”

Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of High-Tech Bridge:

"This incident exposes how a two-month old vulnerability can cause global panic and paralyze the largest companies and governmental institutions on all continents. Worse, cybercriminals could have easily released this worm just after the NSA's 0day was leaked two months ago, and this would have led to much more destructive consequences.

[...]

It would be unreasonable and inappropriate to blame the NSA for any significant contribution to this attack. Similar 0days are bought and sold almost every day, and many other organizations participate in these auctions - virtually anyone can (un)intentionally leak an exploit and cause similar damage. The real problem is that in 2017, the largest companies and governments still fail to patch publicly disclosed flaws for months. Practically speaking, the NSA doesn't really need a 0day to get their data - their negligence "invite" attackers to get in.


Companies and organizations that have fallen victim to this attack, can consider contacting their legal departments to evaluate whether their IT contractors can be held liable for negligence and breach of duty. Failure to update production systems for over two months - can certainly qualify at least as carelessness in many jurisdictions."

Erez Breiman, CTO, Minera Labs:

“The WannaCry outbreak highlights the challenges of defending legacy systems and services that are hard to patch, isolate and otherwise protect without impeding performance, violating vendor contracts or inconveniencing business users. As we already know, WannaCry uses a well-known exploit to access vulnerable machines via the SMB protocol. Optimized for the speed of propagation, this worm doesn’t attempt to hiding itself or attempt to evade detection mechanisms. After all, systems that are missing patches and that are not isolated behind a firewall that blocks unnecessary ports are also missing baseline antivirus and other endpoint security products. Organizations can contain the spread of malware to such systems by employing malware vaccination to stabilize the situation.”

Sean Sullivan, security advisor at F-Secure:

“This is a blast from the past as this kind of ransomware isn’t anything new. For far too long, organizations have been ignoring basic firewall hygiene which is why WannaCry has gotten out of hand so easily.

 

“This is not the worst-case scenario. The silver lining is that this wasn’t a destructive terrorist or nation state attack. Because it was profit-driven, it was designed to be undone upon payment and therefore there may be a chance to recover. However, this is a huge proof of concept for nation state actors that want to do something that might not be recoverable.”

Dana Simberkoff, chief compliance and risk officer at AvePoint:

“Within a company, security and data protection are not just the job of your CISO and CPO. It's everyone’s responsibility every day. Your employees may not be responsible for updating their corporate laptops and company issued devices, but if they're connecting to your corporate networks with personal devices, or home computers, they must be responsibly applying patches and updates to their own systems. Good cyber hygiene requires that you patch and update your operating systems regularly and as often as necessary. Operating systems that were properly patched were protected from this vulnerability by default.

 

Going forward you must implement continuous and ongoing education of your employees. This education cannot be a once a year training course, but rather it must be pervasive throughout the culture of your organization. Because in the absence of security education or experience, people (employees, users, and customers) naturally make poor security decisions with technology. This means that systems need to be easy to use securely and difficult to use insecurely. Your security and data protection education program should include information about the importance of patching your operating systems and the direct tie of “unpatched systems” to vulnerabilities.”

Phillip Hallam-Baker, principal scientist, Comodo:

“Ransomware is following the same trajectory as phishing. The criminals have worked out how to monetize the crime, and they know which types of businesses are likely to pay up-- and how to collect the money without being caught.

 

It appears that the NSA breach has accelerated the process. Instead of having to develop their own zero-day attacks, the criminals have used of an arsenal developed by experts at developing cyber-weapons.

 

The U.S. government clearly had its priorities wrong. Whether or not you think the U.S. government should be spending a fortune developing such cyber-weapons, surely it is obvious that the weapons they develop should be properly secured. If someone had lost a nuclear weapon, heads would have rolled. The CIA and NSA have been breached on a massive scale, and now the effects are being felt. What is going to be done to stop further leaks?”

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.