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Cyber-attacks to the left, ransomware to the right

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The new Petya ransomware is sweeping the globe and proving that businesses and individuals all need to be agile and responsive to the new unknowns.

Gartner’s Jonathan Care offers some tips for preventing future nasties like WannaCry and Petya  which are now making use of ETERNALBLUE and related advanced exploit code.

* The malware requires administrator rights to the local computer. Standard users should not have this in permission. Consider restricting who has local admin rights to prevent execution of exploit code within organisations. Home users should also consider using a Standard User Account for day-to-day operations.

* Many Windows systems are configured to automatically reboot if it crashes. You can disable this feature in Windows. If you can prevent the MFT from being encrypted, you can still recover your data from your local disk.

Unlike WannaCry, Petya is a different kind of ransomware. Common delivery methods are via phishing emails, or scams. The payload requires local administrator access. Once executed, the system’s master boot record (MBR) is overwritten by the custom boot loader, which loads a malicious kernel containing code that starts the encryption process.

Once the MBR has been altered, the malware will cause the system to crash. When the computer reboots, the malicious kernel is loaded, and a screen will appear showing a fake Check disk process. This is where the malware is encrypting the Master File Table (MFT) that is found on NTFS disk partitions, commonly found in most Windows operating systems.

It is when the machine is rebooted to encrypt the MFT that the real damage is done.

Protecting your organisation:

* Deploy the latest Microsoft patches, including MS17-010 which patches the SMB vulnerability.

* Consider disabling SMBv1 to prevent spreading of malware.

* Educate end users to remain vigilant when opening attachments or clicking on links from senders they do not know.

* Ensure you have the latest updates installed for your anti-virus software, vendors are releasing updates to cover this exploit as samples are being analysed.

* Ensure you have backup copies of your files stored on local disks. Generally, user files on local drives are replicated from a network share.

* Prevent users from writing data outside of designated areas on the local hard disk to prevent data loss if attack occurs.

* Operate a least privileged access model with employees. Restrict who has local administration access.

We must take a step back and examine not only the what now? response, but also the what next? – in other words, what does the avalanche of malware and other advanced attacks tell us?

* Our existing traditional trust models don’t work. With more and more critical assets moving to cloud, believing that the data center is safer is a false philosophy.

* The idea that security practitioners can do any kind of one-time risk assessment and sign off is flawed, and opens the door for future attacks.

* Trust and risk require continuous re-validation, and a one-time evaluation/accreditation is no longer fit for purpose.

* Adaptive systems providing advanced monitoring & analytics are key.

The BBC has reported that there are calls for a massive increase in cybersecurity spending, and its certainly true that many organisations have avoided spending money on cyber security for some years.

Elsewhere, CSO online has described the impact of not having nearly enough cybersecurity professionals. So, we need more competent, trained and enthusiastic professionals, and we need better systems that can analyse, detect and highlight threats requiring intervention.