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 •
A coordinated effort has captured the command-and-control servers of the Emotet botnet:
Emotet establishes a backdoor onto Windows computer systems via automated phishing emails that distribute Word documents compromised with malware. Subjects of emails and documents in Emotet campaigns are regularly altered to provide the best chance of luring victims into opening emails and installing malware—regular themes include invoices, shipping notices and information about COVID-19.
Those behind the Emotet lease their army of infected machines out to other cyber criminals as a gateway for additional malware attacks, including remote access tools (RATs) and ransomware.
A week of action by law enforcement agencies around the world gained control of Emotet’s infrastructure of hundreds of servers around the world and disrupted it from the inside.
Machines infected by Emotet are now directed to infrastructure controlled by law enforcement, meaning cyber criminals can no longer exploit machines compromised and the malware can no longer spread to new targets, something which will cause significant disruption to cyber-criminal operations.
The Emotet takedown is the result of over two years of coordinated work by law enforcement operations around the world, including the Dutch National Police, Germany’s Federal Crime Police, France’s National Police, the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, the UK’s National Crime Agency, and the National Police of Ukraine.
EDITED TO ADD (2/11): Follow-on article.
Posted on January 28, 2021 at 6:02 AM •
Good article on the evolution of ransomware:
Though some researchers say that the scale and severity of ransomware attacks crossed a bright line in 2020, others describe this year as simply the next step in a gradual and, unfortunately, predictable devolution. After years spent honing their techniques, attackers are growing bolder. They’ve begun to incorporate other types of extortion like blackmail into their arsenals, by exfiltrating an organization’s data and then threatening to release it if the victim doesn’t pay an additional fee. Most significantly, ransomware attackers have transitioned from a model in which they hit lots of individuals and accumulated many small ransom payments to one where they carefully plan attacks against a smaller group of large targets from which they can demand massive ransoms. The antivirus firm Emsisoft found that the average requested fee has increased from about $5,000 in 2018 to about $200,000 this year.
Ransomware is a decades-old idea. Today, it’s increasingly profitable and professional.
Posted on December 30, 2020 at 6:33 AM •
Wired has a detailed story about the ransomware attack on a Dusseldorf hospital, the one that resulted in an ambulance being redirected to a more distant hospital and the patient dying. The police wanted to prosecute the ransomware attackers for negligent homicide, but the details were more complicated:
After a detailed investigation involving consultations with medical professionals, an autopsy, and a minute-by-minute breakdown of events, Hartmann believes that the severity of the victim’s medical diagnosis at the time she was picked up was such that she would have died regardless of which hospital she had been admitted to. “The delay was of no relevance to the final outcome,” Hartmann says. “The medical condition was the sole cause of the death, and this is entirely independent from the cyberattack.” He likens it to hitting a dead body while driving: while you might be breaking the speed limit, you’re not responsible for the death.
So while this might not be an example of death by cyberattack, the article correctly notes that it’s only a matter of time:
But it’s only a matter of time, Hartmann believes, before ransomware does directly cause a death. “Where the patient is suffering from a slightly less severe condition, the attack could certainly be a decisive factor,” he says. “This is because the inability to receive treatment can have severe implications for those who require emergency services.” Success at bringing a charge might set an important precedent for future cases, thereby deepening the toolkit of prosecutors beyond the typical cybercrime statutes.
“The main hurdle will be one of proof,” Urban says. “Legal causation will be there as soon as the prosecution can prove that the person died earlier, even if it’s only a few hours, because of the hack, but this is never easy to prove.” With the Düsseldorf attack, it was not possible to establish that the victim could have survived much longer, but in general it’s “absolutely possible” that hackers could be found guilty of manslaughter, Urban argues.
And where causation is established, Hartmann points out that exposure for criminal prosecution stretches beyond the hackers. Instead, anyone who can be shown to have contributed to the hack may also be prosecuted, he says. In the Düsseldorf case, for example, his team was preparing to consider the culpability of the hospital’s IT staff. Could they have better defended the hospital by monitoring the network more closely, for instance?
Posted on November 24, 2020 at 6:01 AM •
Really interesting conversation with someone who negotiates with ransomware gangs:
For now, it seems that paying ransomware, while obviously risky and empowering/encouraging ransomware attackers, can perhaps be comported so as not to break any laws (like anti-terrorist laws, FCPA, conspiracy and others) and even if payment is arguably unlawful, seems unlikely to be prosecuted. Thus, the decision whether to pay or ignore a ransomware demand, seems less of a legal, and more of a practical, determination almost like a cost-benefit analysis.
The arguments for rendering a ransomware payment include:
- Payment is the least costly option;
- Payment is in the best interest of stakeholders (e.g. a hospital patient in desperate need of an immediate operation whose records are locked up);
- Payment can avoid being fined for losing important data;
- Payment means not losing highly confidential information; and
- Payment may mean not going public with the data breach.
The arguments against rendering a ransomware payment include:
- Payment does not guarantee that the right encryption keys with the proper decryption algorithms will be provided;
- Payment further funds additional criminal pursuits of the attacker, enabling a cycle of ransomware crime;
- Payment can do damage to a corporate brand;
- Payment may not stop the ransomware attacker from returning;
- If victims stopped making ransomware payments, the ransomware revenue stream would stop and ransomware attackers would have to move on to perpetrating another scheme; and
- Using Bitcoin to pay a ransomware attacker can put organizations at risk. Most victims must buy Bitcoin on entirely unregulated and free-wheeling exchanges that can also be hacked, leaving buyers’ bank account information stored on these exchanges vulnerable.
When confronted with a ransomware attack, the options all seem bleak. Pay the hackers and the victim may not only prompt future attacks, but there is also no guarantee that the hackers will restore a victim’s dataset. Ignore the hackers and the victim may incur significant financial damage or even find themselves out of business. The only guarantees during a ransomware attack are the fear, uncertainty and dread inevitably experienced by the victim.
Posted on September 30, 2020 at 6:19 AM •
A Düsseldorf woman died when a ransomware attack against a hospital forced her to be taken to a different hospital in another city.
I think this is the first documented case of a cyberattack causing a fatality. UK hospitals had to redirect patients during the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, but there were no documented fatalities from that event.
The police are treating this as a homicide.
Posted on September 23, 2020 at 6:03 AM •
There’s a new ransomware for the Mac called ThiefQuest or EvilQuest. It’s hard to get infected:
For your Mac to become infected, you would need to torrent a compromised installer and then dismiss a series of warnings from Apple in order to run it. It’s a good reminder to get your software from trustworthy sources, like developers whose code is “signed” by Apple to prove its legitimacy, or from Apple’s App Store itself. But if you’re someone who already torrents programs and is used to ignoring Apple’s flags, ThiefQuest illustrates the risks of that approach.
But it’s nasty:
In addition to ransomware, ThiefQuest has a whole other set of spyware capabilities that allow it to exfiltrate files from an infected computer, search the system for passwords and cryptocurrency wallet data, and run a robust keylogger to grab passwords, credit card numbers, or other financial information as a user types it in. The spyware component also lurks persistently as a backdoor on infected devices, meaning it sticks around even after a computer reboots, and could be used as a launchpad for additional, or “second stage,” attacks. Given that ransomware is so rare on Macs to begin with, this one-two punch is especially noteworthy.
Posted on July 6, 2020 at 6:43 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.