Should You Update Your Computer?

In May of 2017 the WannaCry attacks infected over 300,000 systems in 150 countries and the approximate estimated cost that these attacks is $4 billion. One month later, the NotPetya attacks, another major global attack that primarily targeted Ukrainian systems, began. The approximated costs of the NotPetya attacks were even larger than the WannaCry attacks and have been estimated at around $10 billion. Following the NotPetya attacks, the Retefe banking Trojan began leveraging the EternalBlue exploit in September. Finally, in August of 2018 the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, an Apple chip supplier, was hit by a new variant of the WannaCry attack that cost the company approximately $170 million. The problem was not that Windows is an inherently flawed system, but instead that these attacks could have been avoided if users/firms had only updated. In March of 2017, Microsoft patched this vulnerability in their monthly, second Tuesday, update.

This is not just a problem with Microsoft software, every piece of software, no matter what care is taken by a software vendor, is riddled with vulnerabilities, which leaves users of the software open to attack by hackers. To protect users, software vendors release patches to address these found vulnerabilities, but this is a double-edged sword. Releasing updates, a.k.a. vulnerability disclosure, may in fact increase the susceptibility of current users to attack, in particular, those who chose not to immediately install the updates. This is due to the fact that the update can be reverse engineered quite easily by hackers. These types of hacks have been gaining in prevalence over the last few of years. For more information on how to model this as a game, i.e. how to model the trade-offs, feel free to read my paper here.

On August 11, Microsoft released an update that contained a patch for the “Zerologon” bug, that allows hackers to essentially take over the entire network. This bug received a CVSS rating of a 10 out of 10, which is not a good thing.

For some extra links to learn more about “Zerologon” see:

  1. ITPro
  2. ZDNet
  3. Computer Business Review

For more information on hacking and policy trends, visit the Salem Center’s Cybersecurity Policy Program to follow our upcoming opeds, as well as learn about our speaker series, courses offered, and current research.