Largest advertising company in the world still wincing after NotPetya punch

Lack of patches and enabling local admin rights blamed

The huge cyber attack that swept from Ukraine last week is still affecting companies, and several have been hit pretty hard, including the world's largest advertising business, UK-based WPP.

The malware attack, dubbed NotPetya because it masquerades as the Petya ransomware, affected several multinationals running Microsoft Windows. Most, if not all, confirmed cases stemmed from a malicious update to MeDoc, Ukraine's most popular accounting software.

One week after the attack and a number of WPP's agencies are still locked out of their network, with some staff only able to access webmail. It is not alone: Maersk, AP Moller-Maersm, Reckitt Benckiser and FedEx are also struggling to get back on their feet. It has prompted analysts to wonder why some were more susceptible than others.

WPP said it is "making steady progress towards resuming normal operations in parts of the Group that continue to experience some disruption". It said systems have been brought back online "in a measured and prudent way, again in line with good practice".

Outsourced support

The advertising and PR group has hundreds of small agencies grouped into six larger companies. The business signed an £800m cloud deal with IBM at the end of 2014, which led to its in-house IT team being transferred over to the company. Once the TUPE period ended, hundreds of staff were made redundant or left, according to multiple sources.

One insider claimed the lack of technical support remaining at WPP may have exposed the company to the attack.

He said IBM had not implemented a crucial central patch management system yet, meaning one of its agencies had not had a Windows patch for six months. Users were also given local admin rights, enabling the malware to spread like wildfire on the network.

He claimed the agencies not affected had taken a more proactive approach to maintaining systems because they either had a few IT support staff left, or had legacy policies in place that meant they were up to date. Others were unaffected because they mostly used MacBooks.

The insider said: "The lack of technical experts on the ground certainly exacerbated the problem."

IBM declined to comment.

WPP said it "had broadly patched as a response to WannaCry". However, external and internal analysis showed that the malware could utilise multiple vectors to spread, and the Microsoft-issued patch from March 2017 only mitigates one of these vectors.

"Upon becoming aware of the attack, WPP immediately shut down certain systems to implement all precautionary measures to protect business and client systems and data," the insider said. "It also deployed new antivirus updates, designed specifically for this malware, as soon as our global antivirus partner, Sophos, made them available.

"IBM has been working alongside our staff and IBMers have been invaluable in working tirelessly to help WPP resolve this issue."

Mysterious malware

Andy Patel, security expert at F-secure, said if a machine was infected by the malware, but the user did not have admin rights and other machines were patched, then the network would generally be safe.

He noted the most modern version of Windows contains a feature that prevents passwords from being stored in plain text (instead storing the hashes), which means the virus would not have been able to use lateral movements to spread.

Some companies, such as Maersk, did direct business with Ukraine, which would explain how the malware got on its system, the F-Secure man added. "However, one victim we spoke to had no ties to the Ukraine at all, so it is a mystery as to how they got infected. Its spread via VPN is one possibility."

Patel also blamed a lack of resourcing as being one factor in leaving some organisations more exposed. "So many companies under resource cyber security and IT, or they outsource it. In my earlier career every company had their own IT department, now we are seeing companies forgoing that. But if you have your IT guys, it is their job to make sure things don't go wrong."

Brian Honan, independent security consultant and founder of Ireland's Computer Security Incident Response Team, agreed that enabling local admin rights, a lack of network segmentation and inadequate patching are the emerging reasons as to why some organisations were more exposed than others.

Wake-up call

However, he cautioned against blaming outsourcing, adding that it's possible for a company with a large in-house IT team to be vulnerable too. "Organisations should never outsource responsibility for security," he said.

He added that although patching systems and removing local admin rights were simple steps to prevent exposure, in many enterprises it might not be as easy as it sounds. "For example, they may have legacy in-house applications that run on certain versions. And then if you patch a system, it may stop applications from running. So there is an inherent cost.

"Likewise, with local admin access there are many accounting applications that require local admin for applications to run. Also, from an IT support point of view it can be easier to allow local access rather than incur the cost of centralising it.

"Companies have to sit down and review the environments. I hate to use the phrase 'a wake-up call' as there have been so many, but hopefully after Petya and WannaCry people realise there are pretty basic things can do to increase security and make themselves resilient against attacks." ®

So it appears some of you really don't want us to use the word 'hacker' when we really mean 'criminal'

The votes have been cast and counted... and it's a landslide

Register debate Last week, we argued over whether or not the media, including El Reg, should stop using the word hacker as a pejorative.

This debate came about after infosec pro Alyssa Miller and a few others from the Hacking Is Not A Crime movement politely asked Register vultures on Twitter to quit using the h-word as a lazy shorthand for criminal.

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Swedish startup Logical Clocks takes a crack at scaling MySQL backend for live recommendations

Takes a 'different approach' to YouTube's Vitess to munch complex transactions in microseconds

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"A 2018 academic paper published in Nature and led by one of our scientific directors, primarily in his capacity as a Professor at TU Delft, was retracted,” Zulfi Alam, a Microsoft Quantum unit veep, told The Register on Monday.

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Deploy AI workloads with confidence using OpenVINO

Write once, deploy anywhere

Sponsored Artificial Intelligence techniques have been finding their way into business applications for some time now. From chatbots forming the first line of engagement in customer services, to image recognition systems that can identify defects in products before they reach the end of the production line in a factory.

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China outlines plan to boost economy with AI, a cloud OS it controls – and bringing in skilled foreigners

Other fun bits: An 'asteroid patrol', brain:computer fusion, DNA storage, enhanced privacy laws

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Mobile World Congress seemingly serious about in-person Barcelona event in June, shares safety plan

Is Spain really ready for 50,000 people at one venue? Sounds like a super spreader event ready to happen

Mobile World Congress appears determined to run its annual Barcelona super-conference as an in-person event this year, mid-pandemic, posting a safety plan online on Monday.

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GitHub bug briefly gave valid authenticated session cookies to wrong users

Don’t panic: Fewer than 0.001% of sessions compromised through flaw that couldn’t be maliciously triggered

If you visit GitHub today you’ll be asked to authenticate anew because the code collaboration locker has squished a bug that sometimes “misrouted a user’s session to the browser of another authenticated user, giving them the valid and authenticated session cookie for another user.”

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Azure flings out free virtual trusted platform module for cloudy VMs

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All of which is pretty familiar stuff on-prem, as TPM has been around for over a decade and is just-about standard issue on modern servers. Google brought virtual TPM to its cloud in mid-2018 and made it the default server configuration in April 2020.

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Cisco issues blizzard of end-of-life notices for Nexus 3K and 7K switches

Service options decline starting next year... so there may be a Nexus 9K switch in your future

Cisco has in recent days issued a blizzard of end-of-life and end-of-sale announcement for switches in its Nexus 3000 and Nexus 7000 ranges.

By The Register’s count, the networking giant has announced that the 18 devices, listed below, across the ranges will soon be sent to the knacker's yard.

The initial batch of notices advised users that the listed devices would not be sold after late August 2021, with shipments to end in November of the same year and support services dwindling as of August 2022. November 2025 was set as the last date on which a service contract could be renewed.

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