This is an interesting development:
Just days after President Biden demanded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia shut down ransomware groups attacking American targets, the most aggressive of the groups suddenly went off-line early Tuesday.
Gone was the publicly available “happy blog” the group maintained, listing some of its victims and the group’s earnings from its digital extortion schemes. Internet security groups said the custom-made sites - think of them as virtual conference rooms — where victims negotiated with REvil over how much ransom they would pay to get their data unlocked also disappeared. So did the infrastructure for making payments.
Okay. So either the US took them down, Russia took them down, or they took themselves down.
Posted on July 16, 2021 at 3:03 PM •
ArsTechnica has a good story on the REvil ransomware attack of last weekend, with technical details:
This weekend’s attack was carried out with almost surgical precision. According to Cybereason, the REvil affiliates first gained access to targeted environments and then used the zero-day in the Kaseya Agent Monitor to gain administrative control over the target’s network. After writing a base-64-encoded payload to a file named agent.crt the dropper executed it.
The ransomware dropper Agent.exe is signed with a Windows-trusted certificate that uses the registrant name “PB03 TRANSPORT LTD.” By digitally signing their malware, attackers are able to suppress many security warnings that would otherwise appear when it’s being installed. Cybereason said that the certificate appears to have been used exclusively by REvil malware that was deployed during this attack.
To add stealth, the attackers used a technique called DLL Side-Loading, which places a spoofed malicious DLL file in a Windows’ WinSxS directory so that the operating system loads the spoof instead of the legitimate file. In the case here, Agent.exe drops an outdated version that is vulnerable to DLL Side-Loading of “msmpeng.exe,” which is the file for the Windows Defender executable.
Once executed, the malware changes the firewall settings to allow local windows systems to be discovered. Then, it starts to encrypt the files on the system….
REvil is demanding $70 million for a universal decryptor that will recover the data from the 1,500 affected Kaseya customers.
Note that this is yet another supply-chain attack. Instead of infecting those 1,500 networks directly, REvil infected a single managed service provider. And it leveraged a zero-day vulnerability in that provider.
EDITED TO ADD (7/13): Employees warned Kaseya’s management for years about critical security flaws, but they were ignored.
Posted on July 8, 2021 at 10:06 AM •
As ransomware becomes more common, I’m seeing more discussions about the ethics of paying the ransom. Here’s one more contribution to that issue: a research paper that the insurance industry is hurting more than it’s helping.
However, the most pressing challenge currently facing the industry is ransomware. Although it is a societal problem, cyber insurers have received considerable criticism for facilitating ransom payments to cybercriminals. These add fuel to the fire by incentivising cybercriminals’ engagement in ransomware operations and enabling existing operators to invest in and expand their capabilities. Growing losses from ransomware attacks have also emphasised that the current reality is not sustainable for insurers either.
To overcome these challenges and champion the positive effects of cyber insurance, this paper calls for a series of interventions from government and industry. Some in the industry favour allowing the market to mature on its own, but it will not be possible to rely on changing market forces alone. To date, the UK government has taken a light-touch approach to the cyber insurance industry. With the market undergoing changes amid growing losses, more coordinated action by government and regulators is necessary to help the industry reach its full potential.
The interventions recommended here are still relatively light, and reflect the fact that cyber insurance is only a potential incentive for managing societal cyber risk.They include: developing guidance for minimum security standards for underwriting; expanding data collection and data sharing; mandating cyber insurance for government suppliers; and creating a new collaborative approach between insurers and intelligence and law enforcement agencies around ransomware.
Finally, although a well-functioning cyber insurance industry could improve cyber security practices on a societal scale, it is not a silver bullet for the cyber security challenge. It is important to remember that the primary purpose of cyber insurance is not to improve cyber security, but to transfer residual risk. As such, it should be one of many tools that governments and businesses can draw on to manage cyber risk more effectively.
Basically, the insurance industry incents companies to do the cheapest mitigation possible. Often, that’s paying the ransom.
Posted on July 1, 2021 at 11:01 AM •
The New York Times has a long story on the DarkSide ransomware gang.
A glimpse into DarkSide’s secret communications in the months leading up to the Colonial Pipeline attack reveals a criminal operation on the rise, pulling in millions of dollars in ransom payments each month.
DarkSide offers what is known as “ransomware as a service,” in which a malware developer charges a user fee to so-called affiliates like Woris, who may not have the technical skills to actually create ransomware but are still capable of breaking into a victim’s computer systems.
DarkSide’s services include providing technical support for hackers, negotiating with targets like the publishing company, processing payments, and devising tailored pressure campaigns through blackmail and other means, such as secondary hacks to crash websites. DarkSide’s user fees operated on a sliding scale: 25 percent for any ransoms less than $500,000 down to 10 percent for ransoms over $5 million, according to the computer security firm, FireEye.
Posted on June 2, 2021 at 9:09 AM •
Apostle seems to be a new strain of malware that destroys data.
In a post published Tuesday, SentinelOne researchers said they assessed with high confidence that based on the code and the servers Apostle reported to, the malware was being used by a newly discovered group with ties to the Iranian government. While a ransomware note the researchers recovered suggested that Apostle had been used against a critical facility in the United Arab Emirates, the primary target was Israel.
Posted on May 26, 2021 at 9:33 AM •
This seems to be a new tactic:
Emsisoft has identified two distinct tactics. In the first, hackers encrypt data with ransomware A and then re-encrypt that data with ransomware B. The other path involves what Emsisoft calls a “side-by-side encryption” attack, in which attacks encrypt some of an organization’s systems with ransomware A and others with ransomware B. In that case, data is only encrypted once, but a victim would need both decryption keys to unlock everything. The researchers also note that in this side-by-side scenario, attackers take steps to make the two distinct strains of ransomware look as similar as possible, so it’s more difficult for incident responders to sort out what’s going on.
Posted on May 21, 2021 at 8:50 AM •
A lot of Russian malware — the malware that targeted the Colonial Pipeline, for example — won’t install on computers with a Cyrillic keyboard installed. Brian Krebs wonders if this could be a useful defense:
In Russia, for example, authorities there generally will not initiate a cybercrime investigation against one of their own unless a company or individual within the country’s borders files an official complaint as a victim. Ensuring that no affiliates can produce victims in their own countries is the easiest way for these criminals to stay off the radar of domestic law enforcement agencies.
DarkSide, like a great many other malware strains, has a hard-coded do-not-install list of countries which are the principal members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — former Soviet satellites that mostly have favorable relations with the Kremlin.
Simply put, countless malware strains will check for the presence of one of these languages on the system, and if they’re detected the malware will exit and fail to install.
Will installing one of these languages keep your Windows computer safe from all malware? Absolutely not. There is plenty of malware that doesn’t care where in the world you are. And there is no substitute for adopting a defense-in-depth posture, and avoiding risky behaviors online.
But is there really a downside to taking this simple, free, prophylactic approach? None that I can see, other than perhaps a sinking feeling of capitulation. The worst that could happen is that you accidentally toggle the language settings and all your menu options are in Russian.
EDITED TO ADD (6/14): According to some, this doesn’t work.
Posted on May 18, 2021 at 10:31 AM •
Modern ransomware has two dimensions: pay to get your data back, and pay not to have your data dumped on the Internet. The DC police are the victims of this ransomware, and the criminals have just posted personnel records — “including the results of psychological assessments and polygraph tests; driver’s license images; fingerprints; social security numbers; dates of birth; and residential, financial, and marriage histories” — for two dozen police officers.
The negotiations don’t seem to be doing well. The criminals want $4M. The DC police offered them $100,000.
The Colonial Pipeline is another current high-profile ransomware victim. (Brian Krebs has some good information on DarkSide, the criminal group behind that attack.) So is Vastaamo, a Finnish mental heal clinic. Criminals contacted the individual patients and demanded payment, and then dumped their personal psychological information online.
An industry group called the Institute for Security and Technology (no, I haven’t heard of it before, either) just released a comprehensive report on combating ransomware. It has a “comprehensive plan of action,” which isn’t much different from anything most of us can propose. Solving this is not easy. Ransomware is big business, made possible by insecure networks that allow criminals to gain access to networks in the first place, and cryptocurrencies that allow for payments that governments cannot interdict. Ransomware has become the most profitable cybercrime business model, and until we solve those two problems, that’s not going to change.
Posted on May 14, 2021 at 6:30 AM •
This is a major story: a probably Russian cybercrime group called DarkSide shut down the Colonial Pipeline in a ransomware attack. The pipeline supplies much of the East Coast. This is the new and improved ransomware attack: the hackers stole nearly 100 gig of data, and are threatening to publish it. The White House has declared a state of emergency and has created a task force to deal with the problem, but it’s unclear what they can do. This is bad; our supply chains are so tightly coupled that this kind of thing can have disproportionate effects.
EDITED TO ADD (5/12): It seems that the billing system was attacked, and not the physical pipeline itself.
Posted on May 10, 2021 at 2:17 PM •
Analyzing cryptocurrency data, a research group has estimated a lower-bound on 2020 ransomware revenue: $350 million, four times more than in 2019.
Based on the company’s data, among last year’s top earners, there were groups like Ryuk, Maze (now-defunct), Doppelpaymer, Netwalker (disrupted by authorities), Conti, and REvil (aka Sodinokibi).
Ransomware is now an established worldwide business.
Posted on February 10, 2021 at 7:39 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.