N.S.A.-created malware is on the loose

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John F
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N.S.A.-created malware is on the loose

Post by John F » Sun May 26, 2019 12:14 am

Apparently this hasn't hit New York yet, though the story says a security company has found "vulnerable servers" here. For more about the malware, see the Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EternalBlue

From this I gather that while it's Windows that is vulnerable, it's the versions for servers that have been attacked. Microsoft issued a security update last year, but apparently it hasn't been installed on lots of computers. To be on the safe side, if your computer uses any version of Windows, make sure it has been updated since May 13, 2017, and preferably that it is completely up to date. You should install security updates immediately anyway, but it seems some users don't do that for fear that the update might cause problems in Windows. (Just as there are people who refuse to vaccinate their children against common diseases for fear of bad side effects.) That won't do.

In Baltimore and Beyond, a Stolen N.S.A. Tool Wreaks Havoc
By Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane
May 25, 2019

For nearly three weeks, Baltimore has struggled with a cyberattack by digital extortionists that has frozen thousands of computers, shut down email and disrupted real estate sales, water bills, health alerts and many other services.

But here is what frustrated city employees and residents do not know: A key component of the malware that cybercriminals used in the attack was developed at taxpayer expense a short drive down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway at the National Security Agency, according to security experts briefed on the case.

Since 2017, when the N.S.A. lost control of the tool, EternalBlue, it has been picked up by state hackers in North Korea, Russia and, more recently, China, to cut a path of destruction around the world, leaving billions of dollars in damage. But over the past year, the cyberweapon has boomeranged back and is now showing up in the N.S.A.’s own backyard.

It is not just in Baltimore. Security experts say EternalBlue attacks have reached a high, and cybercriminals are zeroing in on vulnerable American towns and cities, from Pennsylvania to Texas, paralyzing local governments and driving up costs.

The N.S.A. connection to the attacks on American cities has not been previously reported, in part because the agency has refused to discuss or even acknowledge the loss of its cyberweapon, dumped online in April 2017 by a still-unidentified group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. Years later, the agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation still do not know whether the Shadow Brokers are foreign spies or disgruntled insiders.

Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University, called the Shadow Brokers episode “the most destructive and costly N.S.A. breach in history,” more damaging than the better-known leak in 2013 from Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

“The government has refused to take responsibility, or even to answer the most basic questions,” Mr. Rid said. “Congressional oversight appears to be failing. The American people deserve an answer.” The N.S.A. and F.B.I. declined to comment.

Since that leak, foreign intelligence agencies and rogue actors have used EternalBlue to spread malware that has paralyzed hospitals, airports, rail and shipping operators, A.T.M.s and factories that produce critical vaccines. Now the tool is hitting the United States where it is most vulnerable, in local governments with aging digital infrastructure and fewer resources to defend themselves.


Before it leaked, EternalBlue was one of the most useful exploits in the N.S.A.’s cyberarsenal. According to three former N.S.A. operators who spoke on the condition of anonymity, analysts spent almost a year finding a flaw in Microsoft’s software and writing the code to target it. Initially, they referred to it as EternalBluescreen because it often crashed computers — a risk that could tip off their targets. But it went on to become a reliable tool used in countless intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism missions.

EternalBlue was so valuable, former N.S.A. employees said, that the agency never seriously considered alerting Microsoft about the vulnerabilities, and held on to it for more than five years before the breach forced its hand.

The Baltimore attack, on May 7, was a classic ransomware assault. City workers’ screens suddenly locked, and a message in flawed English demanded about $100,000 in Bitcoin to free their files: “We’ve watching you for days,” said the message, obtained by The Baltimore Sun. “We won’t talk more, all we know is MONEY! Hurry up!”

Today, Baltimore remains handicapped as city officials refuse to pay, though workarounds have restored some services. Without EternalBlue, the damage would not have been so vast, experts said. The tool exploits a vulnerability in unpatched software that allows hackers to spread their malware faster and farther than they otherwise could.

North Korea was the first nation to co-opt the tool, for an attack in 2017 — called WannaCry — that paralyzed the British health care system, German railroads and some 200,000 organizations around the world. Next was Russia, which used the weapon in an attack — called NotPetya — that was aimed at Ukraine but spread across major companies doing business in the country. The assault cost FedEx more than $400 million and Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, $670 million.

The damage didn’t stop there. In the past year, the same Russian hackers who targeted the 2016 American presidential election used EternalBlue to compromise hotel Wi-Fi networks. Iranian hackers have used it to spread ransomware and hack airlines in the Middle East, according to researchers at the security firms Symantec and FireEye.

“It’s incredible that a tool which was used by intelligence services is now publicly available and so widely used,” said Vikram Thakur, Symantec’s director of security response.

One month before the Shadow Brokers began dumping the agency’s tools online in 2017, the N.S.A. — aware of the breach — reached out to Microsoft and other tech companies to inform them of their software flaws. Microsoft released a patch, but hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide remain unprotected...

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/25/us/n ... imore.html
John Francis

John F
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Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Re: N.S.A.-created malware is on the loose

Post by John F » Sun May 26, 2019 8:37 am

I've read a little further and it appears that not just server versions of Windows are vulnerable - all versions at least back to Windows XP. Everything I've read says or implies that if Microsoft's updates to whatever version you're using have been installed, EternalBlue can't get in. So if you haven't updaed your Windows, do it!

For clarification, EternalBlue does not itself lock up all the files in a computer by encrypting them, so that the villain can demand ransom to have them unlocked/decrypted. EternalBlue opens the door into Windows so that any malware can be installed there. Block EternalBlue and you've disarmed a lot of the weapons hackers use to mess up your computer.
John Francis

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