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Costa Rica's New Government is Under Attack by a Conti Ransomware Gang

US State Department offering up to $10 million in incentives for any information leading to Conti gang.

 

The Conti ransomware organization, which has hacked some Costa Rican government computer systems, has increased its threat, claiming that its ultimate goal is to overthrow the government. The Russian-speaking Conti gang tried to intensify the pressure to pay a ransom by boosting its demand to $20 million, perhaps capitalizing on the fact that President Rodrigo Chaves had just been in office for a week. 

"We are aiming to overthrow the government by a cyber attack, and we have already demonstrated all of our strength and power," the group stated on its official website. "In your government, we have insiders. We're also attempting to obtain access to your other systems, and you have no choice but to pay us." Chaves said the organization had infiltrated up to 27 institutions at various levels of government, declaring that the country was "at war" with the Conti ransomware gang but giving no indication that the ransom would be paid. 

"I appeal to every Costa Rican to go to your government and organize rallies to demand that they pay us as soon as possible if your existing government is unable to fix the situation?" A different statement on Conti's dark web page stated, "Perhaps it's worth replacing." Over the weekend, the ransomware issued a warning that it will remove the decryption keys in a week, making it impossible for Costa Rica to restore access to the ransomware-encrypted files. 

The lethal April 19 attack prompted the new administration to proclaim a state of emergency, and the gang has exposed troves of data acquired from infected systems before encryption. Conti linked the attack to an affiliate actor nicknamed "UNC1756," a play on the name given to uncategorized threat groups by threat intelligence firm Mandiant. 

If it was any other ransomware gang, according to Aaron Turner, vice president of SaaS posture at Vectra, an AI cybersecurity firm, the threat would be unnoticeable. "However, because it's Conti, and Conti has publicly connected themselves with Putin's Russia's military activities, this threat should demand a second look," he said. 

He believes that if the US supports 'enemy' troops in Russia's neighborhood, there is a strong urge for retaliation. "Fortunately for Costa Rica, Conti isn't the most sophisticated gang of ransomware operators," he said. "Costa Rica is also lucky in that Russia's invasion of Ukraine went so badly that there are likely inadequate military forces on the other side of the planet to launch a combined cyberattack and conventional strike." While the prospect of overthrow is intriguing from an academic standpoint, Turner believes the chances of Conti orchestrating a coup are extremely remote. 

Affiliates are hacker organizations that rent access to pre-developed ransomware tools to coordinate assaults on corporate networks as part of the so-called ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) gig economy, and then share the profits with the operators. Conti has continued to target companies all over the world after suffering a large data breach of its own earlier this year amid its public support for Russia in its current war against Ukraine. 

Conti is the "most prolific ransomware-associated cybercriminal activity organization operational today," according to Microsoft's security team, which records the cybercriminal gang under the cluster DEV-0193. "DEV-0193 has hired developers from other malware operations that have shut down for varied reasons, including legal actions. The addition of developers from Emotet, Qakbot, and IcedID to the DEV-0193 umbrella is very noteworthy." 

Conti is one of the most wanted cybercriminal gangs in the world, with the US State Department offering up to $10 million in incentives for any information leading to the identity of its senior members.
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