Forget WannaCry: hackers promise floods of tears with fresh malware

Are we entering a new era of malware hell? The whole WannaCry ransomware fracas could be just the beginning of things, if Shadow Brokers – the group of hackers which has previously leaked NSA tools and exploits, including the vulnerability used in WannaCry – has anything to do with it.

According to a Reuters report, Shadow Brokers has published a statement online claiming that from next month, it will be releasing details on a whole raft of fresh exploits that will include tools to help nefarious types crack into Windows 10 systems, web browsers, routers and phones.

It will release details of these exploits in a ‘monthly data dump’ available to cybercriminals willing to pay a subscription for access to these secrets. Those criminals, in turn, will use the security holes to create malware, and quite possibly more ransomware, to make money of their own.

Shadow Brokers also claims that it has data stolen from the Swift banking network, and Chinese, Iranian, North Korean and Russian nuclear weapons programs, which it will make available to paying followers. Which, if true, is certainly a worrying prospect.

As mentioned, this operation – which could be viewed as a crude form of ‘malware-as-a-service’ that supplies the basic nuts and bolts of exploits on a monthly basis – is supposed to kick off in June. In other words, the first data dump could go live in a couple of weeks, and other WannaCry-scale incidents (or worse) could be in the offing shortly after.

There will be plenty of folks feeling uneasy about this prospect, for sure, Microsoft being one of them. The software giant has already said it’s preparing some manner of response to these potential leaks, without giving any details.

Wonky Windows

As we saw at the end of last week, WannaCry hit the NHS badly because it’s still using Windows XP systems which have been unsupported and without security patches for over three years now.

It’s not alone, though, with plenty of other companies falling foul here – as we observed recently, rather unbelievably, Windows XP actually remains the third most-used operating system in the world.

The hope is that WannaCry will spur organizations on to finally migrate away from Windows XP, and the threat of further ransomware outbreaks driven by fresh Shadow Broker-peddled exploits should underline the urgency here.

Indeed, this whole malware car crash could potentially stoke interest, or at least debate, concerning the NHS adopting open source software such as, for example, NHSbuntu.

This is a specially crafted version of Linux Ubuntu (16.04 LTS) tailor-made for the NHS, complete with custom office, email and chat apps, and measures like integrated full-disk encryption. An independent project, NHSbuntu stresses security and being a cost-effective solution for the NHS (the latter being another major draw given the overall financial picture of the health service).

Whatever the NHS does, it’s clearly becoming a bigger and bigger risk to remain on Windows XP, and some action needs to be taken – this is about protecting vital patient data, after all.

And equally, this goes for all the other firms around the globe still running the totally outdated OS: move now, or accept what are likely to be increasingly dire consequences.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).