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Preventing Petya – stopping the next ransomware attack

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Check Point’s Incident Response Team has been responding to multiple global infections caused by a new variant of the Petya malware, which first appeared in 2016 and is currently moving laterally within customer networks. It appears to be using the ‘EternalBlue’ exploit which May’s WannaCry attack also exploited. It was first signaled by attacks on financial institutions in the Ukraine, but soon started spreading more widely, particularly across Europe, the Americas and Asia.
The ransomware is propagating fast across business networks in the same way WannaCry did last month. However, unlike other ransomware types including WannaCry, Petya does not encrypt files on infected machines individually: instead it locks up the machine’s entire hard disk drive.

How the attack happened
The attack started in Ukraine and caused massive disruption to the country’s critical infrastructure, before spreading further in Europe, infecting a number of businesses.
It has been speculated the source of the infection was a compromised software update to a tax accounting software package called M.E. Doc, which was pushed out to the company’s customers, although this has been disputed by M.E. Doc.
Within 24 hours of the attack starting, the method by which victims can pay the ransom fee has been rendered useless: an email address provided by the criminals has been shut down by the hosting provider, while the Bitcoin wallet in which ransoms are supposed to be deposited has not been accessed. The wallet reportedly contains less than $10,000 worth of Bitcoin.
At the same time as the Petya attack, the Check Point research team detected the simultaneous distribution of the Loki bot through infected RTF documents, which install a credential-stealing application to infected devices. However, at this stage, the two attacks do not appear to be directly connected.

Key takeaways from the attack
Check Point believes there are three main takeaways from this latest global ransomware attack:
This attack could have been avoided, and the ones we will see in the future can be avoided too. With more than 93% of Enterprises failing to deploy the technologies available to protect them from these kinds of attack it is not surprising that they are spreading so quickly. As such business must deploy the solutions that prevent these types of attacks, and keep their security patching regimes up to date.
It’s time for company, government and organisational leadership to drive the cyber security agenda. These global attacks demonstrate that we need to invest in the future of cyber security. It is critical that modern cyber security technologies are deployed from governmental level down to prevent them happening again. We know that these attacks will continue to happen again and again – so we need to take steps to protect ourselves against them.
Fragmented security is part of the problem. There are too many disjointed technologies focused on detecting an attack after the damage is done. To address this organisations of all sizes, and in all sectors, need a unified architecture, such as Check Point Infinity, that is focused on preventing the attacks before they hit.

How can you protect yourself and your organisation?
This attack demonstrates two major trends: first, how effectively new variants of malware can be created and spread on a global scale at incredible speed. Second, despite the impact of WannaCry, many companies are still not well prepared to prevent these types of attacks from infiltrating the network.
These attacks have the potential to create massive damage, as seen by the impact on critical infrastructure in the Ukraine. And the consequences of such a rapid spread of infections can have a dramatic effect on day to day lives, crippling critical services and disrupting daily routines.

Apply all security patches immediately
As security patches for the vulnerabilities exploited by the Petya and WannaCry ransomware have been available for several months, organisations should apply those patches on their networks immediately. They should also ensure that they roll out and apply new patches as they become available.

Block attacks before they take hold with Next Generation Threat Prevention
Enterprises also need to focus on preventing attacks before they take hold. In these types of attacks, detecting the attack after it has happened is simply too late: the damage is already done. Next Generation Threat Prevention is essential, to scan for, block and filter out suspicious files content before it reaches networks. It’s also essential that staff are educated about the potential risks of incoming emails from unknown parties, or suspicious-looking emails that appear to come from known contacts.