A rash of misconfigured Amazon Web Services storage servers leaking data to the internet have plagued companies recently. Earlier this week, data belonging to anywhere between six million and 14 million Verizon customers were left on an unprotected server belonging to a partner of the telecommunications firm. Last week, wrestling giant World Wide Entertainment accidentally exposed personal data of three million fans. In both cases, it was reported that data was stored on AWS S3 storage buckets.
A major global cyber-attack disrupted computers at Russia’s biggest oil company, Ukrainian banks and multinational firms with a virus similar to the ransomware that infected more than 300,000 computers last month.
The rapidly spreading cyber extortion campaign, which began on Tuesday, underscored growing concerns that businesses have failed to secure their networks from increasingly aggressive hackers, who have shown they are capable of shutting down critical infrastructure and crippling corporate and government networks.
Companies across the globe are reporting that they have been struck by a major ransomware cyber-attack.British advertising agency WPP is among those to say its IT systems have been disrupted as a consequence.
Ukrainian firms, including the state power distributor and Kiev’s main airport were among the first to report issues.
Experts suggest the malware is taking advantage of the same weaknesses used by the Wannacry attack last month.
Sensitive personal details relating to almost 200 million US citizens have been accidentally exposed by a marketing firm contracted by the Republican National Committee.
The 1.1 terabytes of data includes birthdates, home addresses, telephone numbers and political views of nearly 62% of the entire US population.
The data was available on a publicly accessible Amazon cloud server.
Anyone could access the data as long as they had a link to it.
Political biases exposed
The huge cache of data was discovered last week by Chris Vickery, a cyber-risk analyst with security firm UpGuard. The information seems to have been collected from a wide range of sources – from posts on controversial banned threads on the social network Reddit, to committees that raised funds for the Republican Party.
The information was stored in spreadsheets uploaded to a server owned by Deep Root Analytics. It had last been updated in January when President Donald Trump was inaugurated and had been online for an unknown period of time.
“We take full responsibility for this situation. Based on the information we have gathered thus far, we do not believe that our systems have been hacked,” Deep Root Analytics’ founder Alex Lundry told technology website Gizmodo.
“Since this event has come to our attention, we have updated the access settings and put protocols in place to prevent further access.”
Apart from personal details, the data also contained citizens’ suspected religious affiliations, ethnicities and political biases, such as where they stood on controversial topics like gun control, the right to abortion and stem cell research.
The file names and directories indicated that the data was meant to be used by influential Republican political organisations. The idea was to try to create a profile on as many voters as possible using all available data, so some of the fields in the spreadsheets were left left empty if an answer could not be found.
“That such an enormous national database could be created and hosted online, missing even the simplest of protections against the data being publicly accessible, is troubling,” Dan O’Sullivan wrote in a blog post on Upguard’s website.
“The ability to collect such information and store it insecurely further calls into question the responsibilities owed by private corporations and political campaigns to those citizens targeted by increasingly high-powered data analytics operations.”
Although it is known that political parties routinely gather data on voters, this is the largest breach of electoral data in the US to date and privacy experts are concerned about the sheer scale of the data gathered.
“This is deeply troubling. This is not just sensitive, it’s intimate information, predictions about people’s behaviour, opinions and beliefs that people have never decided to disclose to anyone,” Privacy International’s policy officer Frederike Kaltheuner told the BBC News website.
However, the issue of data collection and using computer models to predict voter behaviour is not just limited to marketing firms – Privacy International says that the entire online advertising ecosystem operates in the same way.
“It is a threat to the way democracy works. The GOP [Republican Party] relied on publicly-collected, commercially-provided information. Nobody would have realised that the data they entrusted to one organisation would end up in a database used to target them politically.
“You should be in charge of what is happening to your data, who can use it and for what purposes,” Ms Kaltheuner added.
There are fears that leaked data can easily be used for nefarious purposes, from identity fraud to harassment of people under protection orders, or to intimidate people who hold an opposing political view.
“The potential for this type of data being made available publicly and on the dark web is extremely high,” Paul Fletcher, a cyber-security evangelist at security firm Alert Logic told the BBC.
AT MIDNIGHT, A week before last Christmas, hackers struck an electric transmission station north of the city of Kiev, blacking out a portion of the Ukrainian capital equivalent to a fifth of its total power capacity. The outage lasted about an hour—hardly a catastrophe. But now, cybersecurity researchers have found disturbing evidence that the blackout may have only been a dry run. The hackers appear to have been testing the most evolved specimen of grid-sabotaging malware ever observed in the wild.
Cybersecurity firms ESET and Dragos Inc. plan today to release detailed analyses of a piece of malware used to attack the Ukrainian electric utility Ukrenergo seven months ago, what they say represents a dangerous advancement in critical infrastructure hacking. The researchers describe that malware, which they’ve alternately named “Industroyer” or “Crash Override,” as only the second-ever known case of malicious code purpose-built to disrupt physical systems. The first, Stuxnet, was used by the US and Israel to destroy centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in 2009.
The researchers say this new malware can automate mass power outages, like the one in Ukraine’s capital, and includes swappable, plug-in components that could allow it to be adapted to different electric utilities, easily reused, or even launched simultaneously across multiple targets. They argue that those features suggest Crash Override could inflict outages far more widespread and longer lasting than the Kiev blackout.
On Friday, May 12, attackers spread a massive ransomware attack worldwide using the EternalBlue exploit to rapidly propagate the malware over corporate LANs and wireless networks. EternalBlue, originally exposed on April 14 as part of the Shadow Brokers dump of NSA hacking tools, leverages a vulnerability (MS17-010) in Microsoft Server Message Block (SMB) on TCP port 445 to discover vulnerable computers on a network and laterally spread malicious payloads of the attacker’s choice. This particular attack also appeared to use an NSA backdoor called DoublePulsar to actually install the ransomware known as WannaCry.
Over the subsequent weekend, however, we discovered another very large-scale attack using both EternalBlue and DoublePulsar to install the cryptocurrency miner Adylkuzz. Initial statistics suggest that this attack may be larger in scale than WannaCry: because this attack shuts down SMB networking to prevent further infections with other malware (including the WannaCry worm) via that same vulnerability, it may have in fact limited the spread of last week’s WannaCry infection.
Symptoms of this attack include loss of access to shared Windows resources and degradation of PC and server performance. Several large organizations reported network issues this morning that were originally attributed to the WannaCry campaign. However, because of the lack of ransom notices, we now believe that these problems might be associated with Adylkuzz activity. However, it should be noted that the Adylkuzz campaign significantly predates the WannaCry attack, beginning at least on May 2 and possibly as early as April 24. This attack is ongoing and, while less flashy than WannaCry, is nonetheless quite large and potentially quite disruptive.
Researchers urge Windows admins to apply MS17-010 before the next attack using the EternalBlue NSA exploit deploys a worse payload than WannaCry ransomware.
No one should be letting their guard down now that the WannaCry ransomware attacks have been relatively contained. Experts intimately involved with analyzing the malware and worldwide attacks urge quite the opposite, warning today that there’s nothing stopping attackers from using the available NSA exploits to drop more destructive malware.
The key is to patch vulnerable Windows machines while there is a downtime, ensure offline backups are secure and available, and that antimalware protection is running and current.
Kaspersky Lab researcher Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade and Comae Technologies’ Matt Suiche said today during a webinar, below, that the EternalBlue exploit targeting a SMBv1 flaw could be fitted with payloads ranging from banking Trojans to wiper malware that destroys a computer’s hard disk.
“Absolutely,” Guerrero-Saade said when asked if this could have been a wiper attack rather than ransomware. “We’re talking ring0 access (via the DoublePulsar rootkitinstalled by the EternalBlue exploit). It would have just come down to a matter of implementation at that point.”
Accelerating the researchers’ anxiety about what could be next was yesterday’s ShadowBrokers announcement that it would begin in June a monthly dump of new exploits—including Windows 10 attacks—and stolen data. The ShadowBrokers’ leak in April of EternalBlue and other Windows attacks handed attackers not only the exploits but also documentation that lowered any barrier to entry for using these attacks.
“This is really worrying because we’ve seen the impact of what those files out in the wild can do,” Suiche said.
The attacks also exposed the shortcomings associated with patching, despite experts for more than a decade stressing the importance of keeping operating systems, browsers and third-party software up to date. MS17-010, the patch that addressed the SMB vulnerabilities leaked by the ShadowBrokers in April, has been available since March. Microsoft rated the security bulletin as critical and experts cautioned that this patch was to be prioritized, and that SMB port 445 on Windows machines should not be exposed to the internet. Yet, Rapid7 today said its scans have found more than 1 million internet-connected devices exposing SMB over 445 with more than 800,000 of those devices running Windows. Rapid7 said it’s likely that a large percentage of that number includes vulnerable versions of Windows with SMBv1 enabled.
“Beyond the prevalence of what these exploits might be, but it really has been a test on the industry and defenders as well,” Guerrero-Saade said. “What we saw here was not the super secret zero-day situation you can’t save yourself from. It was a test of how well we’re implementing the solutions and recommendations that have been out there a very long time that everybody touts every single day. We were asked to put our money where our mouth is with this WannaCry infection.”
The biggest mitigating factor in slowing down the WannaCry outbreak was the discovery of a so-called killswitch that was likely an evasion technique by the malware to check whether it was running in a sandbox. The malware called out to a hard-coded URL, and if it responded, the malware would not execute. The speculation is that getting a response back from the killswitch domain indicated the malware might be executing instead in a sandbox.
Researcher Marcus Hutchins of the MalwareTech blog registered the domain coded into last Friday’s version of WannaCry while Suiche registered a second and third killswitch domain found in subsequent variants, shutting down most infections in the wild.
Guerrero-Saade said his concern is that the next version likely won’t have a killswitch, and could contain a more dangerous and costly payload.
“We have essentially bought time with the killswitches. That’s something where we got incredibly lucky that was even involved in the development of the malware,” Guerrero-Saade said.
They also touched on the shared code between an early WannaCry version found in February and a sample from the Lazarus APT from February 2015. Lazarus is the North Korean group alleged to be behind the Sony hack, which featured wiper malware and damaging data leaks, as well as the SWIFT attacks against banks in Bangladesh, Poland and Mexico. The attacks against financial organizations, experts said during the Kaspersky Lab Security Analyst Summit, were performed by an internal Lazarus splinter group called Bluenoroff in an attempt to help fund the APT’s other activities.
Google’s Neel Mehta found the same code in both samples, which was confirmed by Kaspersky Lab and Suiche later. Guerrero-Saade, who worked on the Lazarus research and on separate research on APTs and their use of false flags, said today that this was not an attribution claim that Lazarus was behind WannaCry, but instead a clustering claim.
“What we’re talking about is what cluster of activity this fits into, what threat actor fits the bill for this,” he said. The linkage between the SWIFT attacks and Lazarus, made by BAE Systems researchers, was based off similar code re-use of a wiper function in a Lazarus attack and the Bangladeshi attack. “The amount of proof grew over times and we laid to rest the concerns about whether the SWIFT attackers are actually part of the Lazarus group.
“Having only had WannaCry for five days, I think it’s important to understand that this is only a lead, and not a simple lead,” Guerrero-Saade said. “It’s not necessarily easy to just replicate a very specific function of code from a very obscure piece of malware from two years ago that you only put into version 1.0 and then removed. That’s not a false flag, that’s too subtle. No one would have noticed it if not for Neel Mehta doing fantastic work.
“I understand that while it’s important to have some healthy skepticism, in this particular case, I think we’re just catching a bit of code re-use. The claims aren’t necessarily bigger than they are, but they aren’t quite as hard to stomach when you look at the code itself.”
The country’s top cybersecurity boss said the country is headed the wrong way when it comes to cybersecurity.
BOSTON–Citing Mirai and WannaCry as recent examples, Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and cyber security coordinator for the White House, said the global landscape of cyber threats can’t be ignored and the U.S. needs to sharpen its defenses when it comes to fending off attacks.
“If you step back and look at the trend lines for cybersecurity, they are going the wrong way. You only have to look at last week at WannaCry to understand,” Joyce said during a talk sponsored by Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that prioritizes the protection of federal networks, critical industries and works to implement the NIST Framework. It’s Joyce’s job to carry it out. Joyce, former chief of the NSA’s office of Tailored Access Operations, was tapped by Trump in March for the role.
“The Trump administration signed an executive order that allows us to get our legs underneath us in terms of cybersecurity,” he said. “With this executive order we are going to step back and we are going to manage the federal government’s IT activity as a single enterprise. Even though we are talking millions-upon-millions of assets and thousands-upon-thousands of networks, we are going to step back and try to view it as a sum total of risks.”
Joyce said Trump’s cybersecurity executive order consisted of three main pillars, or priorities. One included securing the federal networks. Joyce said that pillar shared many of the same challenges of private enterprise faces, from difficulties in finding qualified cybersecurity professionals, handling risk between agencies and being able to defend against hacks and contain breaches should they happen.
“We know we aren’t going to be able to defend against all breaches. So we need to have methods for detecting early and defend against them and compartmentalize them so that breaches don’t cascade into massive data losses… We need to able to take hits and contain damage and restore capability quickly,” he said.
The second pillar is working with private industry to make sure portions of the United States’ privately owned critical infrastructure, made of 16 sectors, can defend against attacks and rebound if it should take a hit.
“So, with those interrelated and interdependent systems, we understand our critical infrastructure is probably not in the state we need to be to survive a deliberate or natural hazard,” he said.
Part of working with private industry will include an initial focus on defending against Mirai-like DDoS attacks and mitigating against IoT botnets. “Recent events, Mirai botnet and others, showed how just how vulnerability we are to technologies that have been pushed into the ecosystem–often without really strong plans for security.”
Joyce added that much of the Trump’s cybersecurity focus would also include working with private companies to better identify APTs and improve the amount of sharing between government and private companies.
Lastly, strengthening cyber defenses and boosting deterrence was another priority along with reaching out to other countries to fight global threats.
“It’s going to take a coalition of like-minded countries to advance the global common space we have here,” he said. “We will be looking to foster an open interoperable, reliable and secure global internet that benefits the U.S. and the rest of the world. We built the internet and gave it to the world, we think it’s very important that it continues to reflect our values.”
In his hour-long address, Joyce also touched on hot button topics such as net neutrality and recent proposed changes to the Vulnerabilities Equities Process.
“When you look at net neutrality, that is one of the sticky decisions that has to be made in the regulator space… But, we have to find a balance point between what we have today and allow some changes… If you are just are going to have a pipe that lets everything straight through, you are inviting people through your unlocked door,” Joyce said.
He said that government and private service providers can’t be hamstrung in cases where internet traffic used for malicious purposes must be left alone.
When asked about the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, Joyce said he was noncommittal about pending changes, however leaned toward the status quo.
“There is a process to legislate the VEP. We are working with Congress about that right now. I do have some concerns because legislators are talking about giving authority to a non-neutral entity. I think the processes right now gives us the balance where we don’t have the offense or the defense with too much thumb on the scale.”
What is it?
Attackers, using a tool allegedly stolen from the U.S. National SecurityAgency, took advantage of flaws in Microsoft Windows systems to spread malware around the world on Friday. The “ransomware” encrypts files, effectively hijacking computer systems, and demands money, in the form of bitcoin, in exchange for decrypting them. Microsoft Corp. had issued a fix, or patch, for the flaw on March 14.
How big is it?
Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus vendor, said it has tracked 45,000 instances of the attack, dubbed WannaCry, in 74 countries around the world, mostly in Russia. Other hot spots include Ukraine, India and Taiwan. Computer security experts say, however, the virus’s spread has been contained by the actions of a private security researcher who found a “kill switch” inside the virus.
Who has been hit?
Victims include Britain’s National Health Service, FedEx Corp., car makers Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA, Germany’s biggest train operator as well as Russian banks. China state media reported early Saturday that some gas stations and universities have been affected.
Has anyone paid the ransom?
It is impossible to say. Screenshots of affected computers indicate hackers are asking for as little as $300 in bitcoin from affected users. The chief data officer at Telefónica, a Spanish telecom provider hit by the virus, said in a personal blog post that a bitcoin account associated with the attackers shows they haven’t “achieved much real impact.” That account had received only 25 payments by midafternoon Saturday in Europe. It is very likely though that the attackers used many accounts. U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the government has advised the NHS not to pay.
A cyber-attack that hit organisations worldwide including the UK’s National Health Service was “unprecedented”, Europe’s police agency says.
Europol also warned a “complex international investigation” was required “to identify the culprits”.
Ransomware encrypted data on at least 75,000 computers in 99 countries on Friday. Payments were demanded for access to be restored.
European countries, including Russia, were among the worst hit.
Although the spread of the malware – known as WannaCry and variants of that name – appears to have slowed, the threat is not yet over.
Europol said its cyber-crime team, EC3, was working closely with affected countries to “mitigate the threat and assist victims”.
In the UK, a total of 48 National Health trusts were hit by Friday’s cyber-attack, of which all but six are now back to normal, according to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
The attack left hospitals and doctors unable to access patient data, and led to the cancellation of operations and medical appointments.
Who else has been affected by the attack?
Some reports say Russia has seen more infections than any other country. Banks, the state-owned railways and a mobile phone network were hit.
Russia’s interior ministry said 1,000 of its computers had been infected but the virus was swiftly dealt with and no sensitive data was compromised.
In Germany, the federal railway operator said electronic boards had been disrupted; people tweeted photos of a ticket machine.
France’s carmaker Renault was forced to stop production at a number of sites.
Other targets have included:
■ Large Spanish firms – such as telecoms giant Telefonica, and utilities Iberdrola and Gas Natural
■ Portugal Telecom, a university computer lab in Italy, a local authority in Sweden
■ The US delivery company FedEx
■ Schools in China, and hospitals in Indonesia and South Korea
Coincidentally, finance ministers from the G7 group of leading industrial countries had been meeting on Friday to discuss the threat of cyber-attacks.
They pledged to work more closely on spotting vulnerabilities and assessing security measures.
‘I was the victim of a ransom attack’
Who has been hit by the NHS cyber attack?
Explaining the global ransomware outbreak
A hack born in the USA?
How did it happen and who is behind it?
The malware spread quickly on Friday, with medical staff in the UK reportedly seeing computers go down “one by one”.
NHS staff shared screenshots of the WannaCry programme, which demanded a payment of $300 (£230) in virtual currency Bitcoin to unlock the files for each computer.
The infections seem to be deployed via a worm – a program that spreads by itself between computers.
Most other malicious programs rely on humans to spread by tricking them into clicking on an attachment harbouring the attack code.
By contrast, once WannaCry is inside an organisation it will hunt down vulnerable machines and infect them too.
It is not clear who is behind the attack, but the tools used to carry it out are believed to have been developed by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to exploit a weakness found in Microsoft’s Windows system.
This exploit – known as EternalBlue – was stolen by a group of hackers known as The Shadow Brokers, who made it freely available in April, saying it was a “protest” about US President Donald Trump.
A patch for the vulnerability was released by Microsoft in March, which would have automatically protected those computers with Windows Update enabled.
Microsoft said on Friday it would roll out the update to users of older operating systems “that no longer receive mainstream support”, such Windows XP (which the NHS still largely uses), Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003.
The number of infections seems to be slowing after a “kill switch” appears to have been accidentally triggered by a UK-based cyber-security researcher tweeting as @MalwareTechBlog.
But in a BBC interview, he warned that it was only a temporary fix. “It is very important that people patch their systems now because there will be another one coming and it will not be stoppable by us,” he said.
‘Accidental hero’ – by Chris Foxx, technology reporter
The security researcher known online as MalwareTech was analysing the code behind the malware on Friday night when he made his discovery.
He first noticed that the malware was trying to contact an unusual web address but this address was not connected to a website, because nobody had registered it.
So, every time the malware tried to contact the mysterious website, it failed – and then set about doing its damage.
MalwareTech decided to spend £8.50 ($11) and claim the web address. By owning the web address, he could also access analytical data. But he later realised that registering the web address had also stopped the malware trying to spread itself.
“It was actually partly accidental,” he told the BBC.
Blogger halts ransomware ‘by accident’