4 Lessons Small Businesses Can Learn from WannaCry and NotPetya Cyber Attacks
WannaCry and NotPetya, also known as Petya, have been the most talked about cyber attacks in the past three months. WannaCry was released into the wild in May this year; NotPetya in June this year.
Their popularity is understandable given that the combined victims of these two cyber attacks reached hundreds of thousands worldwide, with WannaCry affecting over 300,000 computers in 150 countries; NotPetya affecting over 12,500 computers in 65 countries.
Most importantly, these two cyber attacks, labeled as ransomware – malicious software that encrypts computer data and asks for ransom money to unlock it – victimized big corporations and big government institutions worldwide.
WannaCry disrupted the operations of UK’s National Health Service, U.S. express delivery company FedEx and Renault's assembly plant in Slovenia. NotPetya, on the other hand, disrupted the operations of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, U.S.-based pharmaceutical company Merck and Danish shipping firm Maersk.
While big corporations affected by NotPetya such as Nuance, TNT Express, Saint-Gobain, Reckitt Benckiser Group and Mondelēz International publicly acknowledged that their operations have been disrupted, and they have suffered economic losses because of the attack, these big corporations have proven their resilience.
“If a public breach damages a brand and causes customers to switch to a competitor, a larger business can weather the impact better than a smaller business,” Cisco said in its 2017 midyear cyber security report. “When attackers breach networks and steal information, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are less resilient in dealing with the impacts than larger organizations.”
Here are 4 lessons small businesses can learn from WannaCry and NotPetya cyber attacks:
1. Use the Latest Operating System
Users of old operating systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks.
Majority of NotPetya ransomware infections, according to Microsoft in a bulletin dated June 29, this year, were observed in computers using Windows 7. Windows 10, on the other hand, according to Microsoft is resilient against the NotPetya ransomware attack.
For WannaCry, users of old Microsoft operating systems – in particular, Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003 – fell victim to this malicious software. Microsoft ended its support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014; Windows Server 2003 on July 14, 2015; and Windows 8 on January 13, 2016.
For Windows XP, Microsoft issued this statement:
"After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or technical support for Windows XP. Security updates patch vulnerabilities that may be exploited by malware and help keep users and their data safer. PCs running Windows XP after April 8, 2014, should not be considered to be protected, and it is important that you migrate to a current supported operating system – such as Windows 10 – so you can receive regular security updates to protect their computer from malicious attacks."
In the paper “The hackers holding hospitals to ransom” published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) two days before the WannaCry attack, Krishna Chinthapalli, a doctor at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, found that a number of British hospitals were using Windows XP, an operating system introduced by Microsoft in 2001.
2. Install Security Update of the Latest Operating System
Even if you’re using the latest operating system and you fail to install the latest security update or patch, your computers are still vulnerable to cyber attacks.
Users of Windows 10 – the latest operating system from Microsoft – who failed to install the security update released by Microsoft on March 14, 2017 fell victim to WannaCry.
Microsoft said that its March 14, 2017 update resolves vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows that “could allow remote code execution if an attacker sends specially crafted messages to a Microsoft Server Message Block 1.0 (SMBv1) server.” WannaCry exactly exploited this specific security vulnerability mentioned in the March 14th update by Microsoft.
3. Paying Ransom Isn’t a Guarantee that You’ll Get Your Data Back
In a typical ransomware, computer data is encrypted, a ransom note is shown on the computer screen of the victim, the victim pays and the victim recovers data as the data is decrypted.
WannaCry victims paid close to $100,000 – paid in bitcoins; NotPetya victims paid close to $10,000. These earnings are stark contrast to the number one top grossing ransomware Locky which earned $7.8 million, and the second top grossing ransomware Cerber which earned $6.9 million based on the data provided in a Google-led study (PDF).
The reason why these two didn’t earn that much bitcoins is that many victims early on knew that these malicious programs couldn’t restore their data despite paying ransom. According to the Google-led study, WannaCry and NotPetya are "impostors” as they are in reality “wipeware” pretending to be ransomware.
Matt Suiche from Comae Technologies concluded that NotPetya is a wiper as it “does permanent and irreversible damages to the disk”. Suiche differentiates a wiper and a ransomware, this way: “The goal of a wiper is to destroy and damage. The goal of a ransomware is to make money. Different intent. Different motive. Different narrative.”
Victims of NotPetya also can’t pay ransom as the payment email address isn’t accessible anymore. The email address specified in the NotPetya ransomware notice was immediately blocked by the email provider Posteo. The perpetrator or perpetrators of NotPetya also didn’t replace the blocked address with another one.
In the case of WannaCry, McAfee researchers found that while WannaCry can decrypt files, “WannaCry attackers appear to be unable to determine which users have paid the ransom and they cannot decrypt on a per-user basis.”
4. Backup Your Data
Make your organization resilient to cyber attacks by backing up your critical data. You can always get back your operating system or other software applications by reinstalling them. It may, however, be impossible to recreate your data lost to cyber criminals. It’s important then to always backup your critical data.
Backing up data on a regular basis isn’t just helpful in case cyber attackers corrupt your data, it’s also valuable in case your computers are stolen or destroyed as result of fire or other disasters.