Many organizations in Europe and the US have been crippled by a ransomware attack known as “Petya”. The malicious software has spread through large firms including the advertiser WPP, food company Mondelez, legal firm DLA Piper and Danish shipping and transport firm Maersk, leading to PCs and data being locked up and held for ransom. It’s the second major global ransomware attack in the past two months.
How does the “Petya” ransomware work?
The ransomware takes over computers and demands $300, paid in Bitcoin. The malicious software spreads rapidly across an organization once a computer is infected using the EternalBlue vulnerability in Microsoft Windows or through two Windows administrative tools. The malware tries one option and if it doesn’t work, it tries the next one. It has a better mechanism for spreading itself than WannaCry.
Is there any protection?
Most major antivirus companies now claim that their software has updated to actively detect and protect against “Petya” infections: Symantec products using definitions version 20170627.009 should, for instance, and Kaspersky also says its security software is now capable of spotting the malware. Additionally, keeping Windows up to date – at the very least through installing March’s critical patch defending against the EternalBlue vulnerability – stops one major avenue of infection, and will also protect against future attacks with different payloads.
For this particular malware outbreak, another line of defence has been discovered: “Petya” checks for a read-only file, C:\Windows\perfc.dat, and if it finds it, it won’t run the encryption side of the software. But this “vaccine” doesn’t actually prevent infection, and the malware will still use its foothold on your PC to try to spread to others on the same network.
Why is it called “Petya”?
Strictly speaking, it is not. The malware appears to share a significant amount of code with an older piece of ransomware that really was called Petya, but in the hours after the outbreak started, security researchers noticed that “the superficial resemblance is only skin deep”. Researchers at Russia’s Kaspersky Lab redubbed the malware NotPetya, and increasingly tongue-in-cheek variants of that name – Petna, Pneytna, and so on – began to spread as a result. On top of that, other researchers who independently spotted the malware gave it other names: Romanian’s Bitdefender called it Goldeneye, for instance.
Where did it start?
The attack appears to have been seeded through a software update mechanism built into an accounting program that companies working with the Ukrainian government need to use, according to the Ukrainian cyber police. This explains why so many Ukrainian organizations were affected, including government, banks, state power utilities and Kiev’s airport and metro system. The radiation monitoring system at Chernobyl was also taken offline, forcing employees to use hand-held counters to measure levels at the former nuclear plant’s exclusion zone. A second wave of infections was spawned by a phishing campaign featuring malware-laden attachments.
How far has it spread?
Petya is spreading quickly through networks, exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Windows operating system.
The “Petya” ransomware has caused serious disruption at large firms in Europe and the US, including the advertising firm WPP, French construction materials company Saint-Gobain and Russian steel and oil firms Evraz and Rosneft. The food company Mondelez, legal firm DLA Piper, Danish shipping and transport firm AP Moller-Maersk and Heritage Valley Health System, which runs hospitals and care facilities in Pittsburgh, also said their systems had been hit by the malware.
Crucially, unlike WannaCry, this version of ‘Petya’ tries to spread internally within networks, but not seed itself externally. That may have limited the ultimate spread of the malware, which seems to have seen a decrease in the rate of new infections overnight.
What should you do if you are affected by the ransomware?
The ransomware infects computers and then waits for about an hour before rebooting the machine. While the machine is rebooting, you can switch the computer off to prevent the files from being encrypted and try and rescue the files from the machine, as flagged by @HackerFantastic on Twitter.
If the system reboots with the ransom note, don’t pay the ransom – the “customer service” email address has been shut down so there’s no way to get the decryption key to unlock your files anyway. Disconnect your PC from the internet, reformat the hard drive and reinstall your files from a backup. Back up your files regularly and keep your anti-virus software up to date.