WannaCry ransomware attack

WannaCry
Wana Decrypt0r screenshot.png
Screenshot of the ransom note left on an infected system
Date 12 May 2017 – 15 May 2017
(initial outbreak) [1]
Location Worldwide
Also known as Transformations:
Wanna → Wana
Cryptor → Crypt0r
Cryptor → Decryptor
Cryptor → Crypt → Cry
Addition of "2.0"
Short names:
Wanna → WN → W
Cry → CRY
Type Cyberattack
Theme Ransomware encrypting files with $300 – $600 demand (via bitcoin)
Cause
  • WannaCry worm
Outcome Over 200,000 victims and more than 300,000 computers infected [2] [3] [4]

The WannaCry ransomware attack was a worldwide cyberattack by the WannaCry [a] ransomware cryptoworm, which targeted computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. [9]

The attack began on Friday, 12 May 2017, [10] and within a day was reported to have infected more than 230,000 computers in over 150 countries. [11] [12] Parts of Britain's National Health Service (NHS), Spain's Telefónica, FedEx and Deutsche Bahn were hit, along with many other countries and companies worldwide. [13] [14] [15] Shortly after the attack began, Marcus Hutchins, a 22 year-old web security researcher from North Devon in England, [16] who blogs as "MalwareTech", discovered an effective kill switch by registering a domain name he found in the code of the ransomware. This greatly slowed the spread of the infection, effectively halting the initial outbreak on Monday, 15 May 2017, but new versions have since been detected that lack the kill switch. [17] [18] [19] [20] Researchers have also found ways to recover data from infected machines under some circumstances. [21]

WannaCry propagates using EternalBlue, an exploit of Windows' Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. Much of the attention and comment around the event was occasioned by the fact that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had already discovered the vulnerability, but used it to create an exploit for its own offensive work, rather than report it to Microsoft. [22] [23] It was only when the existence of this vulnerability was revealed by The Shadow Brokers that Microsoft became aware of the issue, [24] and issued a "critical" security patch on 14 May 2017 to remove the underlying vulnerability on supported versions of Windows, though many organizations had not yet applied it. [25]

Those still running older, unsupported versions of Microsoft Windows, such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, were initially at particular risk, but Microsoft released an emergency security patch for these platforms as well. [26] Almost all victims of the cyberattack were running Windows 7, prompting a security researcher to argue that its effects on Windows XP users were "insignificant" in comparison. [5] [21]

Within four days of the initial outbreak, security experts were saying that most organizations had applied updates, and that new infections had slowed to a trickle. [27]

Several organizations have released detailed technical writeups of the malware, including Microsoft, [28] Cisco, [29] Malwarebytes, [30] Symantec and McAfee. [31]

The "payload" works in the same fashion as most modern ransomware: it finds and encrypts a range of data files, then displays a "ransom note" informing the user and demanding a payment in bitcoin. [32] It is considered a network worm because it also includes a "transport" mechanism to automatically spread itself. This transport code scans for vulnerable systems, then uses the EternalBlue exploit to gain access, and the DoublePulsar tool to install and execute a copy of itself. [29]

"Kill switch"

The software contained a URL that, when discovered and registered by a security researcher to track activity from infected machines, was found to act as a " kill switch" that shut down the software before it executed its payload, stopping the spread of the ransomware. The researcher speculated that this had been included in the software as a mechanism to prevent it being run on quarantined machines used by anti-virus researchers; he observed that some sandbox environments will respond to all queries with traffic in order to trick the software into thinking that it is still connected to the internet, so the software attempts to contact an address which did not exist, to detect whether it was running in a sandbox, and do nothing if so [33] He also noted that it was not an unprecedented technique, having been observed in the Necurs trojan. [33]

On 19 May, it was reported that hackers were trying to use a Mirai botnet variant to effect a distributed attack on WannaCry's kill-switch domain with the intention of knocking it offline. [34] On 22 May, @MalwareTechBlog protected the domain by switching to a cached version of the site, capable of dealing with much higher traffic loads than the live site. [35]

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