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2 Mois : De Avr 2019 à Juin 2019
By Robert McMillan
Microsoft Corp. took the unusual step of warning that a computer bug it has now patched could be used by a cyber weapon similar to the WannaCry worm, which spread across the globe two years ago.
The bug in Microsoft's Windows software, announced Tuesday, is one of several high-profile computer-security issues to emerge this week. Intel Corp. also said it was addressing new issues in its microprocessors that could allow hackers to gain unauthorized access to data. And Facebook Inc. patched its WhatsApp messaging application to fix a flaw that let attackers use it to install spyware on mobile phones.
Whether any of those issues will lead to widespread damage isn't yet clear, and the problems all have different causes. Taken together, though, they show how the most essential elements of computing -- widely used operating-system software, computer chips and encrypted communications tools -- remain vulnerable despite years of efforts to make them more secure.
Microsoft said it hasn't seen anyone take advantage of the Windows flaw, which affects older versions of the operating system, but believes it is "highly likely" the flaw will wind up being exploited by malicious software now that it has been publicly disclosed.
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," Microsoft said Tuesday in a blog post.
The flaw affects Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. It also affects Windows 2003 and Windows XP -- older versions of Windows that Microsoft doesn't typically patch. But, in a sign of the severity of the bug, Microsoft released XP and Windows 2003 patches as well.
"This is certainly one to take seriously," said Chris Coulter, vice president of technology with BlackBerry Ltd.'s Cylance security group.
Users of Windows 10 and Windows 8 aren't affected by the flaw, Microsoft said.
Microsoft's announcement effectively set off a race between companies and individuals who will need to implement a patch on affected computers, and criminals and hackers around the world looking to exploit the flaw. The attackers could have the upper hand, as past experience shows people often are too slow to roll out security enhancements in their software.
Microsoft said the best way for companies to protect themselves against the vulnerability is to upgrade to newer versions of its software, which are harder to hack and include better tools for automatic updating of patches.
In the case of the WannaCry attack, Microsoft had issued a patch months before the ransomware began spreading globally. But some companies hadn't installed the fix, either out of lax security practices or concerns about disrupting their day-to-day operations.
Any time a company deploys new code like a patch, the installation could fail or run into other glitches, or the software could end up incompatible with a company's existing programs -- potentially costly hiccups. All those issues leave companies vulnerable despite an available fix.
Plenty of companies can install software updates with little disruption. But large institutions can take months to test and deploy patches to avoid business disruptions. That patching process can be drawn-out at hospitals, power plants and other critical institutions that can't afford to go offline for hours at a time, cybersecurity specialists say.
It could be days before the first attack surfaces, depending on how difficult a time hackers have in developing one, Mr. Coulter said. Whether any attack spreads around the world would depend on the code being used as part of a worm -- a more destructive type of attack that aims to replicate itself.
WannaCry spread quickly, and infected more than 200,000 systems world-wide with ransomware -- software that rendered computer systems unusable and demanded a digital ransom. It affected systems at the U.K.'s National Health Service, FedEx Corp. and Nissan Motor Co.
The 2017 worm could have been more devastating, but it was stopped when a security researcher activated a "kill switch" feature that prevented the worm from spreading.
Microsoft's bug came a day after Facebook patched WhatsApp following the company's disclosure that the encrypted-messaging app had been used in a novel form of attack: Attackers had found a way to install spyware on mobile phones by using a bug in the voice-calling feature of WhatsApp.
The attack code was used in hacking tools created by an Israeli cybersecurity firm called NSO Group Technologies Ltd, according to people familiar with the WhatsApp bug investigation.
NSO Group sells its hacking and spyware tools to law enforcement and government agencies. A spokeswoman for the company declined to say whether NSO Group had created attack code leveraging the bug, but said the company doesn't identify targets or operate its technology against them.
Three years ago, NSO Group's software was linked to an attack against Apple's iPhone.
That flaw was particularly interesting because WhatsApp is often used by security-conscious people looking to take advantage of its end-to-end encryption capability, which prevents others from snooping on messages as they are sent, Mr. Coulter said. "Myself and millions of others inadvertently put all that at risk by blindly trusting the app," he said.
On Tuesday, Intel disclosed issues in its microprocessors that could allow hackers to gain unauthorized access to data stored in a computer's memory. The new bugs are similar to last year's Spectre and Meltdown flaws, but are hard to exploit and unlikely to cause the kind of widespread havoc of a computer worm, security researchers said.
An Intel spokesman said the company had addressed the flaws through a series of code updates for its chips, as well as through software patches released by its partners.
Write to Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 15, 2019 16:06 ET (20:06 GMT)
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