WannaCry – When the press pick the wrong boogeyman and nobody listens

It was weird watching the events around WannaCry unfold on Friday in the context of my current job role as for the first time since, the ILOVEYOU worm (which turned 17 years old earlier this month) my role meant that I didn’t have any responsibility for any potentially impacted hosts. After a lifetime of working in small companies in either a security, IT, incident response or management, there was now a major bit of malware propagating that people were unprepared for and I now worked somewhere big enough that we had other people to manage such things.

So, rather than being in the middle of the fire-fight, I sat back, glued to twitter and watched things unfold. It was great to watch some of the worlds (or at least in the early hours, the UKs) best security researchers dig into whats happening and share their findings in real time on twitter.

It became apparent that the world’s tech journalists were also following them and a lot of non-technical ones too. But as we saw a few weeks ago when the latest ShadowBrokers cache was dropped, stuff goes from 140 chars of “current thinking” to being reported worldwide as fact, pretty quickly.

The same seems to have happened again with this, only this time the misapprehension of some early tweets is leading to the blame for the rapid propagation being laid fairly and squarely at the feet of Windows XP and other EoL software. Whilst they are undoubtedly contributing, they are far from the only culprits and come Monday morning there are going to be a lot of people who thought “We don’t have any XP machines, nothing to worry about” who’ll be facing a huge infection.

Now, XP didn’t become the boogey man by accident, there are some reasons why XP was mentioned a lot in those early tweets,

1. Unlike newer versions of Windows, at the time of the the outbreak there was no patch to prevent infection for XP (Microsoft released a patch for newer OSs in March, but has also now released an XP patch)

2. The infection requires SMB v1, a protocol that can happily be disabled in a Windows environment if you don’t have XP/Server 2003 machines on your network.

It’s also noted that NHS is notorious for running legacy software like XP.

However, what the journalists on the whole have failed to take into account is

1. Just because you can (and should) disable SMB v1, it doesn’t mean people have done. Many people won’t know to, others will have non-windows devices using SMB v1 and for some, it’s just too much of a risk to change anything unnecessarily on a production network.

2. Just because Windows OSs newer than XP/Server 2003 have had a patch available since March, it doesn’t mean people have applied it.

3. Most big corps will have perimeter firewalls that prevent direct infections, but how many people have their work laptops getting infect on public wifi this weekend, only to plug that laptop onto the corporate LAN on Monday morning.

So, this ISN’T about XP,  people could have removed their last XP machine decades ago, but unless they’re getting patch management right and are on top of their network configuration (disabling unnecessary features and segmenting as much as they practically can) then come Monday morning the could be met with a rather unexpected headache.

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