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Windows 7: Hot Target for Cyber-Attacks on Healthcare & Retail Sectors | Ron Benvenisti

The FBI has observed cyber criminals targeting computer network infrastructure after an operating system achieves end of life status.

Continuing to use Windows 7 within an enterprise may provide cyber criminals access into computer systems. As time passes, Windows 7 becomes more vulnerable to exploitation due to lack of security updates and new vulnerabilities discovered. Microsoft and other industry professionals strongly recommend upgrading computer systems to an actively supported operating system.

Migrating to a new operating system can pose its own unique challenges, such as cost for new hardware and software and updating existing custom software.

However, these challenges do not outweigh the loss of intellectual property and threats to an organization.

Threat Overview:

On 14 January 2020, Microsoft ended support for the Windows 7 operating system, which includes security updates and technical support unless certain customers purchased an Extended Security Update (ESU) plan. The ESU plan is paid per-device and available for Windows 7 Professional and Enterprise versions, with an increasing price the longer a customer continues use. Microsoft will only offer the ESU plan until January 2023.

Even so, the continued use of Windows 7 even with the ESU plan does not prevent the risk of cyber-criminal exploitation of a computer system. Microsoft accepts no liability for any damages incurred, criminal or civil.

 

  • As of May 2019, an open source report indicated 71 percent of Windows devices used in healthcare organizations ran an operating system that became unsupported in January 2020. Increased compromises have been observed in the Healthcare Industry and Retail Point of Sale and Supply Chain software when an operating system has achieved end of life status. After the Windows XP end of life on 28 April 2014, both, the healthcare and retail industries saw a large increase of exposed records the following year.

 

  • Cyber criminals continue to find entry points into legacy Windows operating systems and leverage Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) exploits. Microsoft released an emergency patch for its older operating systems, including Windows 7, after an information security researcher discovered the RDP vulnerability called BlueKeep in May 2019. Since the end of July 2019, malicious RDP activity has increased with the development of a working commercial exploit for the BlueKeep vulnerability. Cyber criminals often use misconfigured or improperly secured RDP access controls to conduct cyber-attacks. The xDedic Marketplace, taken down by law enforcement in 2019, flourished by compromising RDP vulnerabilities around the world.

 

  • In 2017, roughly 98 percent of systems infected with WannaCry employed Windows 7 based operating systems. After Microsoft released a patch in March 2017 for the computer exploit used by the WannaCry ransomware, many Windows 7 systems remained unpatched when the WannaCry attacks began in May 2017. With fewer customers able to maintain a patched Windows 7 system after its end of life, cyber criminals will continue to view Windows 7 as a soft target.

Recommendations:

Defending against cyber criminals requires a multilayered approach, including validation of current software employed on the computer network and validation of access controls and network configurations. Consideration should be given to:

  • Upgrading operating systems to the latest supported version.
  • Ensuring anti-virus, spam filters, and firewalls are up to date, properly configured, and secure.
  • Auditing network configurations and isolate computer systems that cannot be updated.
  • Auditing your network for systems using RDP, closing unused RDP ports, applying two-factor authentication wherever possible, and logging RDP login attempts.

Reporting Notice:

The FBI encourages reporting information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local FBI field office or the FBI’s 24/7 Cyber Watch (CyWatch). Field office contacts can be identified at www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field. CyWatch can be contacted by phone at (855) 292-3937 or by e-mail at CyWatch@fbi.gov. When available, each report submitted should include the date, time, location, type of activity, number of people, and type of equipment used for the activity, the name of the submitting company or organization, and a designated point of contact. Press inquiries should be directed to the FBI’s National Press Office at npo@fbi.gov or (202) 324-3691.

This article, while subject to standard copyright rules, is classified as TLP:WHITE allowing the information contained herein to be distributed without restriction.

Ron Benvenisti

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