Petya is a family of encrypting ransomware that was first discovered in 2016. The malware targets Microsoft Windows-based systems, infecting the master boot record to execute a payload that encrypts the NTFS file table, demanding a payment in bitcoin in order to regain access to the system.
Here’s a summary of the NotPetya outbreak:
- The malware uses a bunch of tools to move through a network, infecting machines as it goes. It uses a tweaked build of open-source Minikatz to extract network administrator credentials out of the machine’s running memory. It uses these details to connect to and execute commands on other machines using PsExec and WMIC to infect them.
- It also uses a modified version of the NSA’s stolen and leaked EternalBlue SMB exploit, previously used by WannaCry, plus the agency’s stolen and leaked EternalRomance SMB exploit, to infect other systems by injecting malicious code into them. These cyber-weapons attack vulnerabilities patched by Microsoft earlier this year, so the credential theft is usually more successful, at least at places that are on top of their Windows updates.
- Crucially, NotPetya seeks to gain administrator access on a machine and then leverages that power to commandeer other computers on the network: it takes advantage of the fact that far too many organizations employ flat networks in which an administrator on one endpoint can control other machines, or sniff domain admin credentials present in memory, until total control over the Windows network is achieved.
- One way to gain admin access is to use the NSA exploits. Another way is to trick a user logged in as an admin or domain admin into running a booby-trapped email attachment that installs and runs the malware with high privileges. Another way is to feed a malicious software update to an application suite running as admin or domain admin, which starts running the malware on the corporate network again with high privileges. It is understood NotPetya got into corporate networks as an admin via a hijacked software update for a Ukrainian tax software tool, and via phishing emails.
- With admin access, the software nasty can not only lift credentials out of the RAM to access other internal systems, it can rewrite the local workstation’s hard drive’s MBR so that only it starts up when the machine reboots, rather than Windows, allowing it to display the ransom note; it can also encrypt the filesystem tables and files on the drive. NotPetya uses AES-128 to scramble people’s data. Needless to say, don’t pay the ransom – there’s no way to get the keys to restore your documents.
- Not only should you patch your computers to stop the SMB exploits, disable SMBv1 for good measure, and block outside access to ports 137, 138, 139 and 445, you must follow best practices and not allow local administrators carte blanche over the network – and tightly limit access to domain admins. You’d be surprised how many outfits are too loose with their admin controls.
- The precise affected versions of Windows aren’t yet known, but we’re told Windows 10’s Credentials Guard spots NotPetya’s password extraction from memory.
- Creating the read-only file C:\Windows\perfc.dat on your computer prevents the file-scrambling part of NotPetya running, but doesn’t stop it spreading on the network. Note, the software is designed to spread internally for less than an hour and then kicks in; it doesn’t attempt to spread externally across the internet like WannaCry did.