Another reason to always update your software — a weaponized NSA tool is on the loose.

Another reason to always update your software — a weaponized NSA tool is on the loose.

A leaked National Security Agency tool has given us yet another reason to always keep our software up to date. Late last week, an NSA creation named EternalBlue hit close to home when it was used in an attack on local government computers in Baltimore. Like a mad scientist’s creation too strong for its own good, the compromised tool was used for evil. The software, originally crafted by the NSA as a spy tool, was leaked to the masses in late 2017 by an underground (and self-titled) hacking group, the Shadow Brokers.

 

Since its drop on the dark web, EternalBlue has been picked up and wielded by hacking groups around the world. Like adding gas to a flame, the tool allows hackers to spread their malware faster and farther than ever before. EternalBlue-enabled attacks have been on a tour of destruction, targeting government offices, hospitals, and private businesses alike.

 

In a little over a year, EternalBlue has inflicted over a billion dollars in damage around the world. Its infamous strategy? Using a flaw in Microsoft code to implant malware and hold computers, financial data, and health records for ransom. The victims of these attacks all share one thing in common: outdated software.

 

Before EternalBlue’s fall to the dark side, NSA programmers spent close to a year writing code to exploit a security hole in Microsoft code. As a result, EternalBlue can easily target out-of-date Windows systems and enable hackers to inject their malware at ninja-like speeds. Since the Shadow Broker breach, Microsoft released a patch to fix the vulnerability and the NSA has strongly encouraged users to update their systems, but hundreds of thousands of devices remain unprotected.

 

Updating fast enough can prove difficult for many government, hospital, and enterprise networks wrangling a complicated web of out-of-date computers. As a result, EternalBlue attacks are just getting started, as long as unpatched systems exist, hackers have a way in and a motivation to keep striking.

 

The latest attack on Baltimore City Hall computers, just a few ironic miles from where the tool was created, serves as a grave reminder of the risks (and expensive consequences) of outdated systems. As consumers, the smartest thing we can do is stay vigilant on security best practices, keep software up to date, and invest in tools that prioritize security.