New Internet scan data shows that if an exploit for the BlueKeep RDP vulnerability disclosed in May were to become publicly available this week, more than 800,000 systems would be at immediate risk of compromise.
The data reveals that organizations within the consumer goods, utilities, and technology industries have been the least responsive in addressing the threat, the legal, non-profit, and aerospace/defense sectors have been most responsive.
Security ratings firm BitSight earlier this month scanned the Internet looking for vulnerable systems with remote desktop protocol services exposed to BlueKeep. The scan showed that as of July 2, a total of 805,665 systems remain vulnerable to BlueKeep, a 17.8% decrease over the nearly 973,000 vulnerable systems that BitSight discovered in a scan it performed last month. Of the Internet-exposed systems that remain vulnerable to BlueKeep, about 105,170 are located in the US.
BitSight estimates that about 5,225 systems per day are becoming protected from the threat—about 850 of them via patching. The remaining ones are likely being configured so RDP is no longer being exposed to the Internet, according to the company.
BitSight studied the proportion of companies within each industry that had vulnerable systems exposed externally and compared that with data from the last scan. The comparison showed the number of vulnerable systems within the consumer goods sector decreased by just 5.3% over the last month, while that within the utilities and technologies industries decreased by 9.5% and 11.7%, respectively. In contrast, the number of vulnerable systems within the legal, nonprofit/NGO, and aerospace/defense sector dropped by 32.9%, 27.1%, and 24.1%, respectively.
Telecom and Ed Fail
The telecommunications and education sectors had the highest percentage of unpatched systems found online. But that’s likely because organizations in these industries often provide “transit” services to customers, and thus many of the vulnerable systems might belong to consumers and students, BitSight said in its report.
“There could be many reasons why organizations still have unpatched systems exposed, but they are incurring an ever-increasing risk of business disruption and data loss,” warns Dan Dahlberg, director of security research at BitSight. “Most importantly, these organizations not only pose risks to their own operations and their customer data, but their third parties are also indirectly exposed.”
BlueKeep (CVE-2019-0708), a remotely executable bug in RDP in older versions of Windows including a couple that have been discontinued, allows attackers to grab complete control of vulnerable systems and steal or destroy data on them. An attacker also could exploit it to spy on users or pperform other malicious activities.
Microsoft has described the vulnerability as “wormable” and allowing malware to spread autonomously from one vulnerable system to another in much the same fashion as WannaCry did worldwide in 2017. The company issued patches for BlueKeep in May, including for versions of Windows that it no longer supports.
Since then, Microsoft, the DHS, NSA, and numerous security experts have warned organizations about the severity of the threat and urged them to patch against it or take other steps to reduce their exposure. The DHS last month successfully tested a remote code exploit for BlueKeep against a legacy Windows system. There have also been numerous reports of proof-of-concept code and exploits for BlueKeep, though none are known to be publicly available so far.
The new data suggests that while many companies have taken the threat seriously, others still remain exposed. In a sense, the picture is no different than that of the WannaCry pandemic, Dahlberg says. EternalBlue, the vulnerability that WannaCry exploited, became public knowledge in March 2017 and a month later an NSA-developed exploit for it had leaked. It wasn’t until May when the attacks began.
The same thing could play out now as well. “There were still a notable number of systems vulnerable to EternalBlue by the time the WannaCry attack occurred which shaped the magnitude of its impact,” Dahlberg says. Significantly, BlueKeep poses individualized risks to organizations that are not predicated on the availability of a widespread exploit. Actors can use it to perform targeted attacks as well, he warns.
Richard Gold, head of security engineering at Digital Shadows, says BlueKeep’s ability to give an unauthenticated attacker system-level privileges over the network makes it a major threat. “That is the highest level of privilege possible and if you think back to EternalBlue, the basis for WannaCry and NotPetya, this kind of access can cause major havoc.”
Gold says his conversations with customers show that one major issue for many of them is simply finding all the vulnerable systems on a network. “Then, secondarily, is the issue of taking those machines offline to patch, particularly in the cases where there is not a hot standby.”
But overall, many security teams appear to have learned from the WannaCry and NotPetya outbreaks and have been working to get a handle on BlueKeep before it gets exploited. “The community is also being particularly guarded about releasing a functioning exploit, even though multiple researchers have developed one independently of one another,” Gold notes.
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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year … View Full Bio