Global Ransomware virus spread – Nyetya

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A new ransomware virus variously named Nyetya, Petrwrap and GoldenEye has been spreading globally over the last 24 hours.

cyber security

This virus is distinct from WannaCry and other initially suspected variants, it has some unique new features which makes it harder to detect and defend against, clearly showing that today’s malware landscape is evolving apace. This rapidly changing threat landscape has a number of factors including; leaked tools from government agencies, more advanced security controls that require advanced malware (the cat and mouse game) or just because attackers are more determined and more capable.

This and other recent virus attacks serves to reinforce the need for a defence in-depth approach to security with comprehensive controls at all levels of an organisations IT infrastructure.

Some Characteristics of Nyetya and why it is different

1. It encrypts the master boot record, which makes the whole system unusable and causes more damage. Previous crypto viruses (ransomware) were encrypting specific file extensions

2. It does not use a common attack vector from the Internet

It does not infect by scanning ports for vulnerable services, nor uses phishing (mails with crafted content with specific covert malware links), nor file attachments or web sites that host malicious content. Instead it exploits various ways of getting into a network including exploiting vulnerabilities in mass deployed accounting software in Ukraine (called MeDoc). The software was tricked into auto-updating with a malicious file (Perfc.dat)MS. Once it is inside it uses the Eternal Blue (SMBv1) exploit to spread (same as WannaCry) but also two other administrative tools (PSexec and WMI) which in general are valid and legitimate tools used inside a network. The use of these tools would not raise any alarms on network security controls. The malware is capable of stealing the current user’s token and use it to distribute itself to other devices via PSexec (still unclear how it is able to steal the token) or again to steal the current user credentials and use them via WMI.

3. No external internet scans

There is no evidence of external scans (from the internet) in order to locate unpatched SMB services. The only scans that the virus conducts are horizontal, once it is inside the protected network. That makes the virus very hard to detect as most organisations do not have visibility within their network for such activity

4. No Command and Control functionality

The virus does not use C&C so any reputation based security controls cannot detect it. IP addresses / domains reputation is widely used to detect zero-day attacks and to monitor the spread of the virus. That does not seem feasible protection from Nyetya

5. Special attention has been paid to cleaning up any remaining data and logs

All of these unique characteristics point to the fact that cyber criminals have changed their tactics (after the failure of WannaCry due to the incidental but timely discovery of the killswitch) and want the malware spread to be as stealthy as possible.

Protecting yourself from the attack

A short summary of techniques necessary to protect against the attacks are listed below. These cannot be undertaken in isolation and it is assumed that good security practices are already in place such as disaster recovery strategy as well security control such anti-malware controls.

Patch your systems (MS17-010 should be applied), close off any SMBv1 services (disable)
Do not use admin/elevated privileged accounts for normal users
Monitor your network and endpoints for PSexec and WMI communication and try to establish if that is valid communication (could be based on which one the administrators use and also the time of the day)
Monitor your internal network segments using an IDS/IPS

Which type of network security controls are best suited to discover and prevent malware spread?

While other forms of malware attack may have been stopped by reputation based or email and web security controls, neither would have been effective in this instance.

An essential tool in the armoury of security controls is endpoint security such as Cisco AMP for Endpoints, which actively analyse the behaviour of executable files on the system and perform sandboxing.

IDS/IPS network controls are able to catch lateral scans and spread via SMBv1 exploit only if they can see the traffic (actively monitoring traffic on the same logical domain). The most common IDS/IPS deployment model is on the Internet edge, as this malware does not use external scans or gets distributed via normal Internet related channels (mail and web) these controls are not effective. The tactical adaptability in the way the cyber criminals craft their malware attack necessitates a defence in depth approach to security where there can never be too much control in place.