Facebook, Intel and Microsoft announced bugs in their software this week. Facebook patched WhatsApp to prevent hackers from using it to install spyware on mobile phones. Intel described its efforts to fix a problem with its chipsets that allow attackers to access private data. Now Microsoft warned that it just patched a bug similar to the WannaCry ransomware crypto-worm that attacked computers around the globe in 2017. The company said that, to its knowledge, no one yet had exploited the Windows vulnerability.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Windows flaw impacts Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008, as well as Windows 2003 and Windows XP. Although Microsoft doesn’t typically issue patches for such older versions, it did so for the latter two operating systems, underlining the severity of the flaw.
The company “believes it is ‘highly likely’ the flaw will wind up being exploited by malicious software now that it has been publicly disclosed,” and that “future malware that exploits this vulnerability could propagate from vulnerable computer to vulnerable computer in a similar way as the WannaCry malware spread across the globe.” Windows 10 and 8 are not affected.
Having publicly announced the flaw, the race is now on between those who need to implement the patch and the hackers that want to exploit the vulnerability. WSJ claims that, if past history is any indicator, hackers have the upper hand because “people often are too slow to roll out security enhancements in their software.”
That is exactly what happened with WannaCry; Microsoft provided a patch months before the virus began to spread, but “some companies hadn’t installed the fix, either out of lax security practices or concerns about disrupting their day-to-day operations.” Large institutions such as hospitals and power plants, which “can take months to test and deploy patches to avoid business disruptions,” are particularly at risk.
The possibility that any forthcoming hack will spread worldwide depends on if the code used as part of the worm duplicates itself.