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6/13/2019
08:40 AM
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BlueKeep RDP Vulnerability a Ticking Time Bomb

One month after Microsoft disclosed the flaw, nearly 1 million systems remain unpatched, and Internet scans looking for vulnerable systems have begun increasing.

The BlueKeep RDP vulnerability continues to be a ticking time bomb one month after Microsoft publicly disclosed the flaw.

New research from security vendor BitSight shows that close to 1 million systems with RDP exposed to the Internet remain unpatched and vulnerable to attacks.

Another report from Check Point Research this week notes a recent increase in scanning attempts for the flaw from multiple countries, which the company sees as a sign that some threat actors are conducting reconnaissance in preparation for an attack.

Multiple reports of proof-of-concept code becoming available for the flaw have also surfaced in recent weeks, adding to concerns that BlueKeep could soon be used to launch attacks similar in scale to the WannaCry and NotPetya outbreaks of 2017.

"It's surprising that organizations haven't been more efficient and diligent in patching this vulnerability, particularly given the ominous nature of the warning from both Microsoft and the NSA," says Jake Olcott, vice president at BitSight. It's hard to say what exactly might explain the lack of initiative, but poor visibility over deployed systems could be one reason, he says.

The most valuable piece one can take away from the report is the importance of examining an organization's vulnerabilities across the ecosystem, he says. "Too frequently, organizations are diligent when examining their own internal mechanisms but fail to audit risks within third-party systems along the supply chain, from contractors and vendors," Olcott says.

BlueKeep (CVE-2019-0708) is a critical remote code execution bug in the Remote Desktop Services Protocol in older and legacy versions of Windows, including Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows Visa, and Windows Server 2008. Microsoft has described the flaw as giving attackers a way to gain complete control over a vulnerable system and to install programs, view, change, or modify data and create new accounts with full user rights. The bug does not require an attacker to be authenticated or for the user to take any action in order to be exploited.

"In other words, the vulnerability is 'wormable,'" the company said in an blog that urged companies to patch vulnerable systems quickly. "Any 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 in 2017."

Microsoft considers the threat posed by BlueKeep to be so severe it issued patches even for Windows versions that it no longer supports but is widely used around the world. In an advisory last month, the NSA warned that it was "only a matter of time" before remote exploitation tools become available for BlueKeep and threat actors begin including the exploits in ransomware and exploit kits.

According to BitSight, a scan for externally observable systems with RDP showed that 972, 829 vulnerable systems still remain unpatched nearly a month after BlueKeep was first disclosed. Most of the unpatched systems are located either in China or the US. Other countries with a significant number of vulnerable systems include Germany, Brazil, Russia, France, and Great Britain.

The organizations that appear most vulnerable to the threat — based on the presence of at least one vulnerable system on their networks — include those in the telecommunications, education, and technology sectors, BitSight's scanning data shows. At the other end of the spectrum, organizations in the insurance, finance, legal, and healthcare industries appear to have made the most progress in patching BlueKeep or in having other mitigations against it.

In many ways, the threat associated with BlueKeep is similar to the threat posed by the EternalBlue bug that was exploited in the 2017 WannaCry campaign, BitSight says. The one difference is that a reliable exploit for EternalBlue became available almost as soon as the bug was disclosed.

In BlueKeep's case, there is no sign yet that an exploit has become publicly available. But there are reports of several proof-of-exploit-code being built by reverse-engineering the Microsoft patch.

Whether BlueKeep will result in attacks similar to those enabled by EternalBlue depends on how the exploit is delivered, Olcott says. "If it's exploited within enough vulnerable systems, it certainly could be as impactful as EternalBlue," he says. "A lot of that impact depends on the delivery method of the exploit — such as a worm — and how many devices it can impact at one time."

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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

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