Jul 03, 2021 9:27 PM

Update: Ransomware attack hits hundreds of US companies

Posted Jul 03, 2021 9:27 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) —Businesses rushed Saturday to contain a ransomware attack that has paralyzed their computer networks, a situation complicated in the U.S. by offices lightly staffed at the start of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

In Sweden, most of the grocery chain Coop’s 800 stores were unable to open because their cash registers weren’t working, according to SVT, the country’s public broadcaster. The Swedish State Railways and a major local pharmacy chain were also affected.

Cybersecurity experts say the REvil gang, a major Russian-speaking ransomware syndicate, appears to be behind the attack that targeted a software supplier called Kaseya, using its network-management package as a conduit to spread the ransomware through cloud-service providers.

Kaseya CEO Fred Voccola said in a statement that the company believes it has identified the source of the vulnerability and will “release that patch as quickly as possible to get our customers back up and running.”

John Hammond of the security firm Huntress Labs said he was aware of a number of managed-services providers — companies that host IT infrastructure for multiple customers — being hit by the ransomware, which encrypts networks until the victims pay off attackers.

“It’s reasonable to think this could potentially be impacting thousands of small businesses,” said Hammond, basing his estimate on the service providers reaching out to his company for assistance and comments on Reddit showing how others are responding.

Voccola said fewer than 40 of Kaseya’s customers were known to be affected, but the ransomware could still be affecting hundreds more companies that rely on Kaseya’s clients that provide broader IT services.

Voccola said the problem is only affecting its “on-premise” customers, which means organizations running their own data centers. It’s not affecting its cloud-based services running software for customers, though Kaseya also shut down those servers as a precaution, he said.

The company added in a statement Saturday that “customers who experienced ransomware and receive a communication from the attackers should not click on any links -- they may be weaponized.”

Gartner analyst Katell Thielemann said it’s clear that Kaseya quickly sprang to action, but it’s less clear whether their affected clients had the same level of preparedness.

“They reacted with an abundance of caution,” she said. “But the reality of this event is it was architected for maximum impact, combining a supply chain attack with a ransomware attack.”

Supply chain attacks are those that typically infiltrate widely used software and spread malware as it updates automatically.

Complicating the response is that it happened at the start of a major holiday weekend in the U.S., when most corporate IT teams aren’t fully staffed.

That could also leave those organizations unable to address other security vulnerabilities, such a dangerous Microsoft bug affecting software for print jobs, said James Shank, of threat intelligence firm Team Cymru.

“Customers of Kaseya are in the worst possible situation,” he said. “They’re racing against time to get the updates out on other critical bugs.”

Shank said “it’s reasonable to think that the timing was planned” by hackers for the holiday.

The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a statement that it is closely monitoring the situation and working with the FBI to collect more information about its impact.

CISA urged anyone who might be affected to “follow Kaseya’s guidance to shut down VSA servers immediately.” Kaseya runs what’s called a virtual system administrator, or VSA, that’s used to remotely manage and monitor a customer’s network.

The privately held Kaseya is based in Dublin, Ireland, with a U.S. headquarters in Miami.

REvil, the group most experts have tied to the attack, was the same ransomware provider that the FBI linked to an attack on JBS SA, a major global meat processor, amid the Memorial Day holiday weekend in May.

Active since April 2019, the group provides ransomware-as-a-service, meaning it develops the network-paralyzing software and leases it to so-called affiliates who infect targets and earn the lion’s share of ransoms.

The Brazil-based meat company said it paid the equivalent of a $11 million ransom to the hackers, escalating calls by U.S. law enforcement to bring such groups to justice.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A ransomware attack paralyzed the networks of at least 200 U.S. companies on Friday, according to a cybersecurity researcher whose company was responding to the incident.

The REvil gang, a major Russian-speaking ransomware syndicate, appears to be behind the attack, said John Hammond of the security firm Huntress Labs. He said the criminals targeted a software supplier called Kaseya, using its network-management package as a conduit to spread the ransomware through cloud-service providers. Other researchers agreed with Hammond’s assessment.

“Kaseya handles large enterprise all the way to small businesses globally, so ultimately, (this) has the potential to spread to any size or scale business,” Hammond said in a direct message on Twitter. “This is a colossal and devastating supply chain attack.”

Such cyberattacks typically infiltrate widely used software and spread malware as it updates automatically.

It was not immediately clear how many Kaseya customers might be affected or who they might be. Kaseya urged customers in a statement on its website to immediately shut down servers running the affected software. It said the attack was limited to a “small number” of its customers.

Brett Callow, a ransomware expert at the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft, said he was unaware of any previous ransomware supply-chain attack on this scale. There have been others, but they were fairly minor, he said.

“This is SolarWinds with ransomware,” he said. He was referring to a Russian cyberespionage hacking campaign discovered in December that spread by infecting network management software to infiltrate U.S. federal agencies and scores of corporations.

Cybersecurity researcher Jake Williams, president of Rendition Infosec, said he was already working with six companies hit by the ransomware. It’s no accident that this happened before the Fourth of July weekend, when IT staffing is generally thin, he added.

“There’s zero doubt in my mind that the timing here was intentional,” he said.

Hammond of Huntress said he was aware of four managed-services providers — companies that host IT infrastructure for multiple customers — being hit by the ransomware, which encrypts networks until the victims pay off attackers. He said thousand of computers were hit.

“We currently have three Huntress partners who are impacted with roughly 200 businesses that have been encrypted,” Hammond said.

Hammond wrote on Twitter: “Based on everything we are seeing right now, we strongly believe this (is) REvil/Sodinikibi.” The FBI linked the same ransomware provider to a May attack on JBS SA, a major global meat processer.

The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a statement late Friday that it is closely monitoring the situation and working with the FBI to collect more information about its impact.

CISA urged anyone who might be affected to “follow Kaseya’s guidance to shut down VSA servers immediately.” Kaseya runs what’s called a virtual system administrator, or VSA, that’s used to remotely manage and monitor a customer’s network.

The privately held Kaseya says it is based in Dublin, Ireland, with a U.S. headquarters in Miami. The Miami Herald recently described it as “one of Miami’s oldest tech companies” in a report about its plans to hire as many as 500 workers by 2022 to staff a recently acquired cybersecurity platform.

Brian Honan, an Irish cybersecurity consultant, said by email Friday that “this is a classic supply chain attack where the criminals have compromised a trusted supplier of companies and have abused that trust to attack their customers.”

He said it can be difficult for smaller businesses to defend against this type of attack because they “rely on the security of their suppliers and the software those suppliers are using.”

The only good news, said Williams, of Rendition Infosec, is that “a lot of our customers don’t have Kaseya on every machine in their network,” making it harder for attackers to move across an organization’s computer systems.

That makes for an easier recovery, he said.

Active since April 2019, the group known as REvil provides ransomware-as-a-service, meaning it develops the network-paralyzing software and leases it to so-called affiliates who infect targets and earn the lion’s share of ransoms.

REvil is among ransomware gangs that steal data from targets before activating the ransomware, strengthening their extortion efforts. The average ransom payment to the group was about half a million dollars last year, said the Palo Alto Networks cybersecurity firm in a recent report.

Some cybersecurity experts predicted that it might be hard for the gang to handle the ransom negotiations, given the large number of victims — though the long U.S. holiday weekend might give it more time to start working through the list.