NotPetya was nastier than WannaCry ransomware, say experts

A padlock on a motherboard surrounded by keys

NotPetya was 2017's most damaging ransomware attack, according to analysis from malware experts, beating notable campaigns such as Locky and WannaCry.

While WannaCry gained notoriety through sky-high infection rates and its impact on the NHS, which saw 81 of its bodies affected, researchers from security company Webroot said that the less widespread NotPetya outbreak was actually more dangerous, due to the fact that it was specifically engineered to disrupt and damage important systems.

The two malware strains are heavily based on the same exploit, a flaw in Windows Server Message Block system codenamed EternalBlue, which was part of a series of alleged NSA hacking tools dumped by the Shadow Brokers.

"This past year was unlike anything we've ever seen," said Webroot's vice president of engineering and cyber security, David Dufour. "Attacks such as NotPetya and WannaCry were hijacking computers worldwide and spreading new infections through tried-and-true methods.

"Although headlines have helped educate users on the devastating effects of ransomware, businesses and consumers need to follow basic cyber security standards to protect themselves."

A variant of the Petya ransomware from last year, NotPetya was first discovered in June 2017. Unlike most ransomware, NotPetya wasn't designed to encrypt files in order to extort money from victims. Instead, its goal was to wreak as much havoc on systems as possible, spreading within networks and permanently scrambling filesystems.

In fact, the researchers discovered that its resemblance to ransomware was nothing more than a cover to disguise its true purpose - even if victims paid, there was no way for NotPetya's creators to decrypt their files.

NotPetya, WannaCry and Locky were dubbed the nastiest malware campaigns of 2017 by Webroot, with other strains such as Cerber, CrySis and Nemucod also making the list.

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.