Jun 9, 2023 - Technology

New security flaw's slow-burn perils are only just beginning

Illustration of a computer mouse's wire as a fuse.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The impact of a recently patched security flaw in a widely used file-transfer tool will likely linger across North America for months to come.

Why it matters: Since Progress Software Corp. first uncovered a flaw in the popular file-transfer program MOVEit Transfer, a handful of high-profile organizations — including the BBC, British Airways and the government of Nova Scotia — have publicly warned that hackers have used the flaw to target their systems.

  • Cybersecurity company Rapid7 estimates that the majority of the roughly 2,500 online instances of MOVEit are running in the U.S.
  • Other firms are reporting that they've heard from dozens of organizations affected by MOVEit-related breaches.

Catch up quick: Last week, Progress warned it had uncovered a critical security flaw in the file-transfer tool that would allow hackers to gain unauthorized access to customers' networks.

  • Hackers could then use that access to steal sensitive customer data or run commands on a company's network.
  • While Progress released a fix a few days later, the Cl0p ransomware gang has continued to target systems that still aren't patched, according to a U.S. government advisory.

The big picture: The attacks uncovered in the last week are likely only a small fraction of what's to come.

  • Typically in this type of attack — known as a supply chain attack — affected organizations aren't fully aware of their exposure to the flaw or put off patching their systems until it's too late.
  • This happened following the 2021 discovery of a vulnerability in open-source logging tool Log4j. Even a year after its discovery, nearly three-fourths of affected organizations were still vulnerable.

What they're saying: "This is one that you can think of more as a tornado than a hurricane," Christopher Budd, head of Sophos' X-Ops team, told Axios. "It's not going to hit everyone, but where it is hitting, it's having a significant impact."

Between the lines: One of the biggest obstacles with the MOVEit incident is understanding how attackers exploited the flaw before it was publicly reported.

  • Researchers, including those at Sophos, have seen malicious hackers targeting the flaw as early as May 27 — about four days before Progress started warning about the insecurity.

The intrigue: Some organizations might not even know whether they're running the program, Budd said.

  • "When you run networks, you've got hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of systems, and it's hard to know what you're running," Budd said.
  • Sometimes departments and individual employees run programs like MOVEit on their devices without getting IT's approval — leaving the IT and security teams with an imperfect picture of what's running on their networks, he added.

Zoom out: The Cl0p ransomware gang, in particular, has made targeting vulnerable file-transfer tools a go-to part of its strategy, the government advisory noted.

  • The group also attacked organizations through flaws in Accellion's file transfer tool in 2020 and 2021 and targeted a flaw in Fortra's GoAnywhere file transfer tool earlier this year.

Be smart: All organizations should study their systems to see whether MOVEit is running on their network — and ask their tech vendors to do the same, Budd said.

  • If there's no sign, organizations should double-check with all departments and employee devices to make sure no one has downloaded the program without their knowing.
  • And if there is a sign of MOVEit on the networks, they should follow the mitigation guidelines on Progress's website and initiate an investigation for evidence of any attack.

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