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PyRoMineIoT cryptojacker uses NSA exploit to spread

The latest malware threat based on the EternalRomance NSA exploit is PyRoMineIoT, a cryptojacker infecting IoT devices. But experts said the NSA shouldn't be held responsible for the damages.

A new malware variant reads like the greatest hits of cyberthreats: a cryptojacker using an NSA exploit to scan...

for IoT devices with hardcoded passwords to spread and distribute the miner. And according to experts, there's blame to be had on all sides.

Researchers at Fortinet's FortiGuard Labs have been tracking Python-based malware that uses the EternalRomance National Security Agency (NSA) exploit to spread and install a cryptominer -- hence, PyRoMine. And, now, the researchers found a variant that directly targets IoT devices, which they call PyRoMineIoT.

Jasper Manuel, a malware researcher at Fortinet, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., wrote in a blog post that PyRoMine and PyRoMineIoT malware don't need Python to be installed on the target systems, and PyRoMineIoT uses the EternalRomance NSA exploit to scan for IoT devices that are vulnerable due to using hardcoded passwords. Once PyRoMineIoT infects a device, the malware downloads components, including a Monero cryptominer.

"This development confirms yet again that malware authors are very interested in cryptocurrency mining, as well as in capturing a chunk of the IoT threat ecosystem," Manuel wrote. "We predict that this trend will not fade away soon, but will continue as long as there are opportunities for the bad guys to easily earn money by targeting vulnerable machines and devices."

Sean Newman, director of product management for Corero Network Security, based in Marlborough, Mass., said enterprises may not need to worry about cryptojackers specifically, because "they have their own specific mission, which has nothing to do with any data or information within an organization which ends up hosting them."

"But there is the obvious performance impact for any device which does get compromised for this purpose, which could negatively impact the function of IoT devices, for example," Newman wrote via email. "However, enterprises should really be asking themselves the [following] question: If a hacker can plant malware within my organization to mine cryptocurrency, what other malware can they, or another cybercriminal, plant just as easily?"

Justin Jett, director of audit and compliance for Plixer, based in Kennebunk, Maine, said regardless of the size of the enterprise, "organizations should be concerned with cryptominers."

"These malicious applications steal valuable resources that are critical to business applications. When allowed to go unabated, vital business applications are unable to perform as required. This means that organizations are losing not only resources, but time and money," Jett wrote via email. "Every company should use network traffic analytics to see where these cryptominers are spreading. Specifically, in the case of PyRoMineIoT, the malware is actively scanning for IoT devices on the network. Network traffic analytics makes quick work of such security vulnerabilities and can help IT professionals quickly see where the malware has compromised them."

The NSA connection

While the PyRoMineIoT malware uses an NSA exploit -- leaked by the Shadow Brokers -- to help it spread and infect more vulnerable devices, experts said the blame for any damage shouldn't necessarily go to the NSA, because even if the EternalRomance NSA exploit hadn't been developed by the U.S. government, someone else would have created the attack.

Pat Ciavolella, malware team lead at The Media Trust, based in McLean, Va., said, "Developers are innovative" and would have eventually created something similar to the EternalRomance NSA exploit.

If a hacker can plant malware within my organization to mine cryptocurrency, what other malware can they, or another cybercriminal, plant just as easily?
Sean Newmandirector of product management for Corero Network Security

"Part of that innovation comes from being on the lookout for vulnerabilities, which is also how security measures are improved," Ciavolella wrote via email. "The NSA and any organization that does this type of work needs to exercise tighter control over who has access to their innovations so that they do not fall into the wrong hands. Today's digital economy isn't just the Wild West, it's the Wild 'Westworld' -- virtually any innovation in the wrong hands can hurt others."

Gabriel Gumbs, vice president of product strategy at STEALTHbits Technologies, based in Hawthorne, N.J., said, "Blaming the NSA is easy and far too convenient."

"IoT vendors must be held to higher standards," Gumbs wrote via email. "It is not OK to sell interconnected devices to consumers that fail to implement even basic security measures."

Larry Trowell, principal consultant with Synopsys Software Integrity Group, said the government shares some of the blame for the NSA exploit.

"It's in every country's interest to develop systems enabling offensive and defensive strategies to protect individuals and national services," Trowell wrote via email. "There is no fault in that. If the NSA does have some blame to share in this situation, it is for allowing secrets to be exfiltrated -- not in developing them."

Jett said although the NSA exploit was stolen, "they didn't create the vulnerabilities that allow for the malware to exploit devices."

"As such, you can't hold them responsible for the malware that has emerged from the EternalRomance exploit. Vendors whose products are vulnerable to EternalRomance are responsible for resolving the exploit problem," Jett wrote. "Additionally, it has been more than a year since the NSA exploits were released, and vendors have created patches. It becomes incumbent on the users to make sure they are properly patching their software and reducing the threat surface for these exploits."

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