Petya no pet as it spreads: is it ransomware or a vicious design for data destruction? (updated)

Breaking–The ‘more and worse’ experts predicted after WannaCry is here.  In two days, the Petya or PetyaWrap (or NotPetya) ransomware has spread from Ukraine to affect organizations in 64 countries with 2,000+ attacks involving 12,000+ machines. On the hit list are mostly Eastern European and trans-national companies: Maersk shipping, Merck, Nuance cloud services, WPP advertising, Mars and Mondelez foods, Rosneft (Russia’s largest oil producer), Chernobyl, unnamed Norwegian firms, Beiersdorf and Reckitt Benckiser in India, Cadbury and law firm DLA Piper in Australia. One local US healthcare provider affected in a near-total shutdown of their computer systems, and resorting to backups, is Heritage Valley Health System in western Pennsylvania. There are no reports to this hour that the NHS, major US, Asia-Pacific, or European health systems being affected. Update: Trading in FedEx shares were halted 29 June due to the Petya attack on its TNT Express international division. Update 30 June: The Princeton Community Hospital in rural West Virginia is running on paper records as Petya forced a complete replacement of its EHR and computer hardware. Fox Business

Like WannaCry, the ransomware exploited the EternalBlue backdoor; a report from ArsTechnica UK adds an exploit touchingly dubbed EternalRomance. But unlike WannaCry, according to ZDNet, both “Symantec and Bitdefender have confirmed that it’s a Petya ransomware strain dubbed GoldenEye, which doesn’t just encrypt files — it also encrypts hard drives, rendering entire computers useless.” ArsTechnica goes deeper into methodology. Petya uses a hacking tool called MimiKatz to extract passwords and then uses legitimate Microsoft utilities and components to spread it. (Ed. note: if you have time for only one technical article, read ArsTechnica’s as the latest and most detailed.)

The Microsoft patch–and Microsoft has just issued an update for Win10, which this Editor heartily recommends you download and install–while defending against WannaCry, still isn’t preventing the spread. It’s speedier than WannaCry, and that says a great deal. Its aim appears not to be ransom, but data destruction. Updated: this POV is confirmed in today’s ZDNet article confirming that Comae Technologies and Kaspersky Lab strongly believe that Petya is a ‘wiper’ designed to destroy data by forever blocking it on your hard drive.

Another article in ZDNet (Danny Palmer) attempts to isolate why hackers remain one step ahead of us:

Law enforcement agencies and cybersecurity firms across the world are investigating the attack – and researchers have offered a temporary method of ‘vaccinating’ against it** – but how has this happened again, just six weeks on from a previous global ransomware outbreak?

One reason this new form of Petya is proving so effective is due to improved worm capabilities, allowing it to spread across infected networks, meaning that only one unpatched machine on a whole network needs to become infected in order for the whole operation to come crashing down.

Not only that, but cybersecurity researchers at Microsoft say the ransomware has multiple ‘lateral movement’ techniques, using file-shares to transfer the malware across the network, using legitimate functions to execute the payload and it even has trojan-like abilities to steal credentials.

**  The inclusion of this link in the quote does not imply any recommendation by TTA, this Editor, or testing of said fix.

What you can do right now is to ensure every computer, every system, you own or are responsible for is fully updated with Microsoft and security patches. If you’re in an enterprise, consult your security provider. Run backups. Remind employees to not click on links in suspicious messages or odd links even from known senders–and report them immediately. Based on reports, phishing emails and watering hole attacks are the main vectors of spread, like WannaCry. (A suggestion from this Editor–limit web search to reputable sites, and don’t click on those advert links which are buggy anyway!) Be judicious on updates for your software except by Microsoft and your security provider; there is growing but still being debated evidence that the initial Ukrainian spread was through a hacked update on a popular tax accounting software, MeDoc. More on this in ZDNet’s 6 Quick Facts. Another suggestion from Wired: run two anti-virus programs on every computer you have, one free and one paid.

And no matter what you do–don’t pay the ransom! The email provider within hours blocked the email so that the payment cannot go through. Updates to come. More reading from Bleeping ComputerHealthcare IT News, CNBC, HIStalk, US-CERT, Fortune, Guardian,

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