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Why Must Businesses be Equipped With Modern Ransomware Capabilities?


The most contemporary threat to the survival of businesses may be the "if, not when" approach surrounding ransomware. Ransomware attacks are increasingly prevalent targets for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors, and we know that 94% of enterprises had a cybersecurity issue just last year.

However, several companies still operate with archaic security measures that are incompetent in combating modern ransomware. 

It has been falsely believed that ransomware attacks are declining. In reality, Q1 of 2022 reported a 200% YoY hike in ransomware activities. Moreover, the increase in Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) offerings indicates that ransomware attacks have in fact turned into a commodity for threat actors. 

Ransomware as a Service 

The RaaS market opens a new and challenging trend for organizations and IT experts. 

With RaaS – a subscription ransomware model that charges affiliates for setting up malware – the access barriers for hackers are lower than ever. 

The unsophisticated nature of RaaS hackers is the reason why the average downtime has decreased to just 3.85 days (as compared to the average attack duration of two months in the year 2019). 

While the decrease in attack downtime sounds promising, the emergence of RaaS still indicates a fact for the business leaders, i.e. all organizations are vulnerable. Consequently, demanding the role of IT and business experts to combat the risk by implementing robust cybersecurity protocols. 

The need for the aforementioned action could be estimated by reviewing the ransomware attack cases that organizations have witnessed in recent times. 

Bernalillo County’s Ransomware Breach 

In January 2022, threat actors breached data centers in Bernalillo County, New Mexico. The largest detention facility in the county's automatic locking systems and security cameras were among the critical infrastructure disruptions that continued for several days. 

Months after subverting the ransomware agents, Bernalillo County officials finally implemented a stronger cybersecurity strategy that included endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems, multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all employee accounts, 24/7 security monitoring, and new virus-scanning software. 

Bernalillo County’s Ransomware Breach has taught security experts several lessons. The incident highlights how ransomware can cause non-financial harm to persons and businesses. Since, residents of Bernalillo County suffered severe service interruptions during the incident, while county convicts were confined to their cells for several days. 

The incident also emphasized the importance of rapid response to such situations. Cybersecurity measures such as MFA, remote monitoring, and EDR work wonders in preventing ransomware attacks, but only if implemented before the cyberattack. 

Unfortunately, a lot of business executives still hold off on putting strong cybersecurity policies in place. As a result, ultimately and inevitably, their organizations end up suffering like the residents of Bernalillo County. 

Prioritizing a Robust Security Strategy is Crucial 

Organizations must not compromise in implementing security protocols and services. In order to boost the effectiveness of cybersecurity, business and IT leaders are suggested to have access to the same evolving AI and machine learning capabilities that are utilized by modern hackers. 

An adequate tactile protection plan usually requires a third-party vendor in order to provide security insights or monitoring capabilities. However, business and IT leaders only consider Ransomware Protection as a Service (RPaaS) solutions that provide adaptive tactics for cloud-based, on-premises, and hybrid data centers. Doing so will eventually ensure the organization’s cybersecurity package scales as it grows—or, in some instances, shrink —without the need for extra software. 

Preparing For “When,” And Not “If” 

The first step to combat a ransomware threat is by accepting that any organization, big or small, could be a target sooner or later. This realization will eventually become more crucial in combatting the attacks, as one witnesses a constant rise in casual ransomware attacks via RaaS, and as international conflicts have further increased the chances of large-scale breaches and ransomware attacks. 

Although one cannot entirely evade ransomware attacks, breaches could still be dodged by taking cybersecurity measures such as a robust cyber defense, that will consequently secure an organization from any financial loss or a mission-critical service outage.  

Cheerscrypt Spyware Attributed to Chinese APT Entity

The Emperor Dragonfly Chinese hacker group, notorious for frequently switching between several ransomware families to avoid detection, has been connected to the Cheerscrypt virus. 

The attacks were linked by the cybersecurity company Sygnia to a threat actor also dubbed Bronze Starlight and DEV-0401. The hacking gang seems to be a ransomware operation, but past research suggests that the Chinese government is interested in many of its victims.

Cheerscrypt is the most recent addition to a long range of ransomware families that the gang has previously used, including LockFile, Atom Silo, Rook, Night Sky, Pandora, and LockBit 2.0 in a little over a year.

Recently, Sygnia researched a Cheerscrypt ransomware operation that utilized Night Sky ransomware TTPs. The attackers then dropped a Cobalt Strike beacon linked to a C2 address formerly tied to Night Sky operations. 

The code for the Babuk ransomware, which was exposed online in June 2021, was used to develop the Cheerscrypt ransomware family, which Trend Micro first analyzed in May 2022. Cheerscrypt is one of several ransomware families used by the APT organization. The DEV-0401 group, unlike other ransomware gangs, oversees every stage of the assault chain directly, from the first access to the data theft. It does not rely on a system of affiliates.

A significant Log4Shell vulnerability in Apache Log4j was utilized by hackers in January 2022 assaults to acquire initial access to VMware Horizon servers. They subsequently dropped a PowerShell payload that was used to send an encrypted Cobalt Strike beacon. Apart from the beacon, the hackers also sent three Go-based tools: a keylogger that sent keystrokes to Alibaba Cloud, a customized version of the internet proxy tool iox, and the tunneling program NPS.

Trend Micro initially identified Cheerscrypt in May 2022, highlighting its capacity to target VMware ESXi servers as a component of a tried-and-true strategy known as double extortion to force its victims into paying the ransom or risk having their data exposed.

The hackers break into networks, take information, and encrypt devices just like other ransomware groups that target businesses. The victim is then coerced into paying a ransom through double-extortion methods using the data. The stolen data is posted on a data leak website when a ransom is not paid.

A PowerShell payload that can deliver an encrypted Cobalt Strike beacon has been dropped on VMware Horizon servers by infection chains that have exploited the major Log4Shell vulnerability in the Apache Log4j library.

Cheerscrypt and Emperor Dragonfly share initial access vectors, and lateral movement strategies, including the use of DLL side-loading to distribute the encrypted Cobalt Strike beacon. Notably, the ransomware gang is acting as a 'lone wolf' separated from the rest of the cybercrime community rather than as a RaaS (Ransomware-as-a-Service) platform for affiliates.






Noberus Ransomware Has Updated Its Methods

Recently there has been an increase in the use of different techniques, tools, and procedures (TTPs) by attackers using the Noberus aka BlackCat ransomware, making the threat more serious than ever. On Thursday, Symantec provided new techniques, tools, and procedures (TTPs) that Noberus ransomware attackers have employed recently.

Noberus is believed to be the sequel payload to the Darkside and BlackMatter ransomware family, according to a blog post by Symantec's Threat Hunter Team. The company said that Darkside is the same virus that was used in the May 2021 ransomware assault on Colonial Pipeline.

About  Coreid 

Coreid operates a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) business, which implies it creates the malware but licenses it to affiliates in exchange for a share of the earnings. 

Since Noberus was the first genuine ransomware strain to be deployed in real-world attacks and it was written in the computer language Rust, it piqued interest when it was discovered in November 2021; as a cross-platform language, Rust is notable. In accordance with Coreid, Noberus can encrypt files on the Windows, EXSI, Debian, ReadyNAS, and Synology operating systems.

The organization has chosen to utilize the ransomware known as Noberus, which is short for the BlackCat ALPHV ransomware that has been used in attacks on multiple American colleges, to escape law enforcement by using fresh ransomware strains, according to Symantec researchers.

The researchers claim that the criminal organization first started stealing money from businesses in the banking, hospitality, and retail industries using the Carbanak malware. Before the group's transition towards ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operation in the early 2020s, three of its members were arrested in 2018.

Noberus is a destructive ransomware

Coreid emphasized Noberus' various improvements over other ransomware, such as encrypted negotiation conversations that can only be seen by the intended victim. Cybercriminals have access to two different encryption methods and four different ways to encrypt computers, depending on their needs for speed and the size of their data heaps, thanks to Noberus.

Noberus employs a program called Exmatter to recover the stolen data. According to Symantec, Exmatter is made to take particular kinds of files from particular directories and upload them to the attacker's site even before the ransomware is activated. Exmatter, which is constantly modified and updated to exfiltrate files through FTP, SFTP, or WebDav, can produce a report of all the processed exfiltrated files and if used in a non-corporate setting, it has the potential to self-destruct.

Noberus is also capable of collecting credentials from Veeam backup software, a data protection and recovery product that many organizations use to store login information for domain controllers and cloud services, utilizing information-stealing malware called Infostealer. By using a specific SQL query, the malware known as Eamfo can connect to the SQL database containing the credentials and steal them.

Symantec reported that in December the gang introduced a 'Plus' category for allies who had extorted at least $1.5 million in attacks. The group has demonstrated that it will cut off allies who don't earn enough in ransoms, according to Symantec.

A potent data exfiltration tool for the most common file types, including.pdf,.doc,.docx,.xls,.xlsx,.png,.jpg,.jpeg,.txt, and more, was added to Coreid last month.

Similar to some other organizations, Coreid has outlined four primary entities that affiliates are not permitted to attack: the Commonwealth of Independent States, nations with ties to Russia, healthcare providers, and nonprofits.

According to Symantec, the affiliates are 'directed to avoid assaulting the education and government sectors,' but given the numerous attacks on universities around the world, they seem to be lax about this directive.




Conti Gang Doppelganger Adopts Recycled Code 

A ransomware attack from a brand-new gang dubbed 'Monti,' which primarily exploits Conti code has come to the surface. 

The Monti ransomware was found and revealed by MalwareHunterTeam on Twitter on June 30, but Intel471 and BlackBerry independently announced their study into Monti on September 7th.

The malware's developers constitute a well-known ransomware group that has launched numerous attacks. They operate under "Wizard Spider" and could be linked with the global Trickbot cybercrime ring. 

Reportedly, the cybercrime group that has a base in Russia, supports the Russian government's goals, particularly the Ukraine conflict. 

In return for a portion of the ransom money collected, the Conti gang offers 'its members' access to its software. The group's ability to scale operations is a direct result of the aforementioned. The group resorts to the ransomware as a service (RaaS) approach to disseminate the infection.

According to Intel471, "Monti might be a rebranded version of Conti or even a new ransomware version that has been developed utilizing the disclosed source code," it was published on February. It really doesn't appear like Monti has been involved in enough activities for the security company to establish a connection to Conti." 

Since the Conti disclosures in February effectively handed Monti malicious actors a step-by-step roadmap to mimicking Conti's notoriously successful actions, BlackBerry appears to be more certain that Monti is a copycat than a legitimate successor to its namesake.

Apart from one, Monti threat actors used the Action1 Remote Monitoring and Maintenance (RMM) agent, and the majority of Indicators of Compromise (IOCs) discovered by the BlackBerry IR team in the Monti attack were also detected in prior Conti ransomware attacks. 

Experts want to highlight a useful technique that was made feasible by our awareness of the code repetition before  Monti's reuse of Conti's encryptor code. 

The BlackBerry IR team was aware that Conti encryptor payloads do not always completely encrypt each file because we were familiar with Conti v2 and v3 encryptor payloads. Source code research reveals that Conti payloads combine a file's location, type, and size to decide which encryption techniques to employ. 

The BlackBerry IR team was able to recover completely, unencrypted strings from encrypted log files because of this information.

Conti's activities have slowed down recently, some experts have proposed that Conti's reduced activity is the consequence of a rebranding effort similar to those undertaken by various ransomware strains in the past, perhaps involving several members of the Conti gang. Other sources claim that other RaaS firms, like Karakurt and BlackByte, have engaged former Conti operators.

Whether Conti is being dubbed Monti to spoof the earlier strain or it is simply another new ransomware variety remains unclear, we will probably continue to see this new version have an impact on organizations all around the world. However, utilizing publicly accessible binaries to develop fresh ransomware or relaunch an old one would potentially offer defenders a head start as Monti develops.





Hackers are Actively Targeting Linux-Based Devices

Ransomware attacks against Linux have accelerated as cybercriminals try to increase their options and take advantage of an operating system that is sometimes neglected when organizations think about security. 

According to Trend Micro, hackers prefer using ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) techniques because they enable quicker deployment and higher rewards. Additionally, they increasingly focused their attacks on Linux-based computers and employed relatively new ransomware families in high-profile strikes. Operators of ransomware also used both cutting-edge and time-tested strategies to attack cloud environments.

Linux powers significant enterprise IT infrastructure, including servers, making it a target for ransomware gangs. This is especially true when cybersecurity teams may decide to concentrate on protecting Windows networks against cybercrime due to a believed lack of threat to Linux systems compared to Windows.

For instance, LockBit, one of the most widespread and effective ransomware operations in recent memory, now provides the choice of a Linux-based variant that is made to target Linux systems and has been used to carry out assaults in the field.

Hackers are regularly extending the scope of their exploits by focusing on Linux, one of the most potent operating systems utilized in cloud platforms and servers around the world, in addition to upping the ante by utilizing MaaS methods in their attacks.

The RaaS architecture makes it simpler and quicker for cyber criminals to deploy ransomware attacks than traditional ransomware models, even those with limited technical knowledge. According to SPN data, three ransomware families—the infamous LockBit, Conti, and BlackCat families—dominated the RaaS space in terms of detections. BlackCat is a family of ransomware that was developed in the Rust programming language at the end of 2021.

Attackers using ransomware are motivated by money and would jump at new possibilities if they believe they can increase their earnings; it would seem that encrypting Linux systems and demanding payment for the key to open servers and files are becoming more and more common.

According to researchers, as ransomware perpetrators strive to maximize their profits, this strategy will only grow in popularity.

It's not only ransomware entities that are focusing more on Linux, according to Trend Micro, but there has also been a 145% increase in Linux-based cryptocurrency-mining malware attacks, wherein online criminals covertly use the processing power of infected computers and servers to mine for cryptocurrency for their own gain.

Netwalker: Ex Canadian Government Employee Pleads Guilty to Cybercrimes 

 

An ex-government of Canada official pleaded guilty in a US court to crimes related to data theft stemming from his involvement with the NetWalker ransomware group. 

Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins admitted on Tuesday that he had planned to commit bank fraud and phishing scams, intentionally damaged a protected computer, and also sent another demand regarding that illegally damaged computer. 

 Plea agreement filled 

Vachon-Desjardins, 34, who had previously been sentenced to six years and eight months in prison after entering a guilty plea to five criminal offenses in Canada, was deported to the United States in March. 
Vachon-Desjardins is "one of the most prolific NetWalker Ransomware affiliates," as per his plea agreement, and was in charge of extorting millions of dollars from several businesses all over the world. Along with 21 laptops, smartphones, game consoles, and other technological devices, he will also forfeit $21.5 million. 

He has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, intentionally harming a protected computer, and conveying a demand related to intentionally damaging a protected computer, according to a court filing submitted this weekThe accusations carry a maximum punishment of 40 years in jail combined. The attorneys did not identify the targeted business, but they did indicate that it is based in Tampa and was assaulted on May 1, 2020. 

 NetWalker gang's collapse

In 2019, a ransomware-as-a-service operation called NetWalker first surfaced. It is thought that the malware's creators are based in Russia. Its standard procedure – a profitable strategy also known as double extortion, includes acquiring sensitive personal data, encrypting it, and then holding it hostage in exchange for cryptocurrencies, or risk having the material exposed online.

According to reports, the NetWalker gang intentionally targeted the healthcare industry during the COVID-19 pandemic to take advantage of the global disaster. To work for other RaaS groups like Sodinokibi (REvil), Suncrypt, and Ragnarlocker, Vachon-Desjardins is suspected of being connected to at least 91 attacks since April 2020 in his capacity as one of the 100 affiliates for the NetWalker gang. 

The Feds dismantled the crime gangs' servers and the dark website is used to contact ransomware victims as part of the takedown of the NetWalker gang. Then they took down Vachons-Desjardins, who, according to the FBI, made $27 million for the NetWalker gang. 

His role in cybercrime is said to have included gathering information on victims, managing the servers hosting tools for reconnaissance, privilege escalation, data theft, as well as running accounts that posted the stolen data on the data leak site and collecting payments following a successful attack. 

However, some victims did pay fees, and the plea deal connected Vachons-Desjardins to the successful extortion of roughly 1,864 Bitcoin in ransom payments, or about $21.5 million, from multiple businesses around the world.

LockBit 3.0: Launch of Ransomware Bug Bounty Program

 

The "LockBit 3.0" ransomware update from the LockBit ransomware organization features the first spyware bug bounty program, new extortion methods, and Zcash cryptocurrency payment choices. After two months of beta testing, the notorious gang's ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operation, which has been operational since 2019, recently underwent an alteration. It appears that hackers have already employed LockBit 3.0.

Bug bounty plan for LockBit 3.0 

With the launch of LockBit 3.0, the organization launched the first bug bounty program provided by a ransomware gang, which asks security researchers to disclose bugs in exchange for incentives that can go as high as $1 million. In addition to providing bounties for vulnerabilities, LockBit also pays rewards for "great ideas" to enhance the ransomware activity and for doxing the operator of the affiliate program, identified as LockBitSupp, which had previously posted a bounty plan in April on the XSS hacking site.

"We open our bug bounty program to any security researchers, ethical and unethical hackers worldwide. The compensation ranges from $1,000 to $1,000,000," reads the page for the LockBit 3.0 bug reward. The notion of initiating the criminal operation would be against the law in many nations, however, makes this bug reward scheme a little different from those frequently utilized by respectable businesses.

LeMagIT claims that version 3.0 of LockBit includes several other improvements, such as new methods for data recovery and monetization, as well as the option for victims to choose to have their data destroyed, and the ability for victims to make payments using the Zcash cryptocurrency in addition to Bitcoin and Monero. 

LockBit is producing outcomes. In May, LockBit 2.0 succeeded Conti as the leading provider of ransomware as a service. The gang's previous ransomware, LockBit 2.0, was to be blamed for 40% of the attacks that NCC Group observed in the preceding month. Moreover, according to Matt Hull, worldwide lead for strategic threat intelligence at NCC, The most prolific threat actor of 2022 is Lockbit 2.0,  In times like these, it's imperative that businesses become familiar with their strategies, methods, and processes.

It is unclear how this new extortion technique will operate or even whether it is activated because the LockBit 3.0 data leak site currently does not have any victims. With its public-facing manager actively interacting with other malicious actors and the cybersecurity community, LockBit is one of the most prolific ransomware campaigns.

Chinese APT Utilizes Ransomware to Cover Cyberespionage

 

A China-based advanced persistent threat (APT) group called Bronze Starlight has been active since the start of 2021. It appears to be using double-extortion attacks and ransomware as cover for routine, state-sponsored cyberespionage and intellectual property theft. 

The distribution of post-intrusion ransomware, including LockFile, Atom Silo, Rook, Night Sky, Pandora, and LockBit 2.0, is a feature of Bronze Starlight. Microsoft also labeled it as part of the DEV-0401 emerging threat cluster, highlighting its involvement in all phases of the ransomware attack cycle, from initial access to the payload dissemination.

China's Correlation

The threat actor has always loaded Cobalt Strike Beacon and then released ransomware on compromised computers using a malware loader known as the HUI Loader, which is solely utilized by  Chinese-based organizations. This method has not been noticed by other threat actors, according to Secureworks researchers.

Researchers from Secureworks believe that Bronze Starlight is more likely motivated by cyberespionage and intellectual property (IP) theft than financial gain due to the short lifespan of each ransomware family, victimology, and access to tools used by Chinese state hacktivists (including known vulnerabilities and the HUI Loader). HUI Loader has been used to distribute malware such as Cobalt Strike, QuasarRAT, PlugX, and SodaMaster as well as remote access trojans (RATs) at least since 2015.

Attacks carried out by the actor are distinguished by the use of vulnerabilities influencing Exchange Server, Zoho ManageEngine ADSelfService Plus, Atlassian Confluence, and Apache Log4j. This contrasts with other RaaS groups that obtain access from initial access brokers (IABs) to enter a network. 

The similarity between Ransomware 

Additionally, a familiar actor is apparent from the similarities found between LockFile, Atom Silo, Rook, Night Sky, and Pandora, the latter three of which were developed from the Babuk ransomware, the source code of which was leaked in September 2021. 

The researchers write that the use of HUI Loader to load Cobalt Strike Beacon, the configuration data for Cobalt Strike Beacon, the C2 network, and the code overlap "indicate that the same threat group is linked with these 5 ransomware families."

The use of the HUI Loader to launch next-stage encrypted payloads like PlugX and Cobalt Strike Beacons, which are used to disseminate the ransomware, is another instance of detected tradecraft. However, this technique requires first getting privileged Domain Administrator credentials. 

The main victims are American and Brazilian pharmaceutical firms, a U.S. media outlet with branches in China and Hong Kong, Lithuanian and Japanese electronic component designers and manufacturers, a U.S. legal company, and the aerospace & defense unit of an Indian conglomerate. 

To achieve this, ransomware operations not only give the threat actor a way to phish data as a result of the double extortion, but they also give them a chance to erase forensic proof of its destructive actions and distract them from data theft.

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

JupyterLab Web Notebooks Targeted by Unique Python-Based Ransomware

 

The first-ever Python-based ransomware virus specifically tailored to target vulnerable Jupyter notebooks has been revealed by researchers. It is a web-based immersive computing platform which allows editing and running programs via a browser. Python isn't widely used for malware development, instead, notably, thieves prefer languages like Go, DLang, Nim, and Rust. Nonetheless, this isn't the first time Python has been used in a ransomware attack. Sophos disclosed Python ransomware, particularly targeting VMware ESXi systems in October 2021. 

Jupyter Notebook is a web-based data visualization platform that is open source. In data science, computers, machine learning, and modular software are used to model data. Over 40 programming languages are supported by the project, which is used by Microsoft, IBM, and Google, as well as other universities. According to Assaf Morag, a data analyst at Aqua Security, "the attackers got early access via misconfigured environments, then executed a ransomware script it encrypts every file on a particular path on the server and eliminates itself after execution to disguise the operation." 

The Python ransomware is aimed at those who have unintentionally made one's systems susceptible. To watch the malware's activities, the researchers set up a honeypot with an exposed Jupyter notebook application. The ransomware operator logged in to the server, opened a terminal, downloaded a set of malicious tools, including encryptors, and then manually generated a Python script. While the assault came to a halt before completing the mission, Team Nautilus was able to gather enough data to mimic the remainder of the attack in a lab setting. The encryptor would replicate and encrypt files, then remove any unencrypted data before deleting itself. 

"There are over 11,000 servers with Jupyter Notebooks which are internet-facing," Aqua researcher Assaf Morag stated. "Users can execute a brute force attack and perhaps obtain access to some of them — one would be amazed how easy it can be to predict these passwords." We believe the attack either timed out on the honeypot or the ransomware is still being evaluated before being used in real-world attacks." Unlike other conventional ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) schemes, Aqua Security described the attack as "simple and straightforward," adding since no ransom note was displayed on the process, raising the possibility the threat actor was experimenting with the modus operandi or the honeypot scheduled out before it could be completed. 

Regardless, the researchers believe it is ransomware rather than a wiper weapon based on what they have. "Wipers typically exfiltrate data and delete it or simply wipe it," Morag continued. "We haven't observed any attempts to move the data outside the server, and the data wasn't just erased, it was encrypted with a password," says the researcher. This is even additional evidence this is a ransomware attack instead of a wiper."

Although evidence discovered during the incident study leads to a Russian actor, citing similarities with prior crypto mining assaults focused on Jupyter notebooks, the attacker's identity remains unknown.

Ukrainian Security Researcher  Source Code for New Conti Malware Has Been Exposed

 

The source code of a fresh version of the Conti ransomware has been disclosed by a Ukrainian security researcher. This is the latest in a string of leaks sparked by the criminal group's support for Russia. Conti is a ransomware gang based in Russia which uses a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) business model. While some ransomware demands are in the millions of dollars, Coveware thinks the average Conti demand is just over $765,000. 

The renowned Conti ransomware organization published a statement soon after Russia launched its incursion of Ukraine, warning this was prepared to strike the key infrastructure of Russia's adversaries in revenge for any assaults on Russia. 

In response, an anonymous user created the "Conti Leaks" Twitter account and began distributing materials supposedly stolen from the cybercrime ring. The first set of disclosures included correspondence sent within the Conti organization in the preceding year. More chat logs, credentials, email addresses, C&C server information, and source code for the Conti ransomware and other malware were included in the second phase. 

After a period of inactivity of more than two weeks, the Twitter account resurfaced over the weekend, releasing what looks to be the source code for a newer version of Conti. Previously, some speculated that the leaker was a Ukrainian security researcher, while others speculated that he was a rogue employee of the Conti group. Messages were leaked and shared. 

The discharge of ransomware source code, particularly for advanced operations such as Conti, can have catastrophic consequences for corporate networks and consumers. This is due to the fact other threat actors frequently exploit the disclosed raw code to create their own ransomware attacks. In the past, a researcher released the source code for ransomware called 'Hidden Tear,' which was soon adopted by several threat actors to begin various operations.

AnchorDNS Loophole of a TrickBot Spyware Upgraded to AnchorMail

 

Even after the TrickBot infrastructure was shut down, the malware's operators continued to improve and retool its arsenal in preparation for attacks which ended in the distribution of the Conti ransomware. The new, improved edition of the criminal gang's AnchorDNS backdoor was called AnchorMail by IBM Security X-Force, which discovered it. 

According to IBM's malware reverse researcher Charlotte Hammond, AnchorMail "uses an email-based [command-and-control] server with which it connects using SMTP and IMAP protocols over TLS." "AnchorMail's behavior is essentially similar to vs its AnchorDNS predecessor, excluding the redesigned C2 communication method." 

The Trickbot Group, also known as ITG23 on X-Force, is a cybercriminal group best known for creating the Trickbot financial Trojan. Originally discovered in 2016, it was used to aid online banking fraud, initially. The gang adapted to the ransomware economy by gaining a footing for ransomware assaults utilizing its Trickbot and Bazarloader payloads, a tight partnership with both the Conti ransomware-as-a-service provider (RaaS). 

ITG23 is also known for creating the Anchor malware framework, which includes the AnchorDNS variant. In 2018 various high-profile targets were being infected with Trickbot or Bazarbackdoor, another ITG23 backdoor. AnchorDNS is known for using the DNS protocol to communicate with its Command and Control (C2) server. The improved backdoor, dubbed AnchorMail or Delegatz by IBM Security X-Force researchers, now communicates with an email-based C2 server through SMTP and IMAP protocols via TLS. AnchorMail's functionality is essentially similar to its AnchorDNS predecessor for most of its part, with the exception of the redesigned C2 communication mechanism. 

The uncovering of this updated Anchor variant adds an extra inconspicuous backdoor during ransomware assaults, demonstrating the group's drive to continually improve its malware. AnchorMail provides a scheduled job for persistence after execution, which is set to execute every 10 minutes. It then gathers basic system data, registers with its C2, and enters a loop of monitoring for and executing commands received. 

The command structure of the backdoor and AnchorDNS appear to be fairly similar, and both forms appear to accept the same set of control codes, which allow a variety of various possibilities for processing orders and payloads received from the C2. The commands include the ability to run binaries, DLLs, and shellcode downloaded from a remote server, as well as launch PowerShell commands and erase themselves from infected PCs. 

"The revelation of this new Anchor version adds a new covert gateway used during ransomware assaults, AnchorMail has only been seen to target Windows PCs so far. However, given the AnchorDNS has been adapted to Linux, a Linux-based version of AnchorMail appears inevitable," said Charlotte Hammond, BM's malware reverse engineer.

Black Cat Ransomware Linked with Gangs DarkSide/BlackMatter

The Black Cat Ransomware gang, aka ALPHV, confirmed that they were earlier associated with the infamous BlackMatter/DarkSide ransomware campaign. ALPHV/Black Cat is the latest ransomware operation launched last year in November and built in the Rust programming language, which is rare for ransomware attacks. The ransomware can be customized, via different encryption methods and options that allow attacks on a variety of corporate organizations. 

The ransomware group identifies itself as ALPHV, however, MalwareHunterTeam, a cybersecurity firm, calls the ransomware as Black Cat, because a black cat image is shown on the target's Tor payment page. The ransomware campaigns often run as Ransomware as a Service (RaaS,) where the core team develops ransomware attacks and manages servers, and adverts ( affiliates) are hired to compromise corporate networks and organize attack campaigns. In this sort of assignment, the core team earns around 10-30% of ransomware payment, and the affiliate earns the rest. 

The earnings depend on how much ransom is brought by different affiliates in the campaign. The past has experienced many RaaS operations, where top-level hacking groups, when shut down by the government, resurface with a new name. These include- GandCrab to Revil, Maze to Egregor, and DarkSide to BlackMatter. Few believe that Conti resurfaced as Ruk, however, experts believe these two operate separately under the TrickBot group and are not affiliated with each other. 

Meanwhile few affiliates team up with a single RaaS campaign, it is also common for affiliates to work with multiple hacking groups. "While the BlackCat ransomware operators claim that they were only DarkSide/BlackMatter affiliates who launched their own ransomware operation, some security researchers are not buying it. Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow believes BlackMatter replaced their dev team after Emsisoft exploited a weakness allowing victims to recover their files for free and losing the ransomware gang millions of dollars in ransoms," reports Bleeping Computer.

Walmart Dissects New 'Sugar' Ransomware

 

The cyber threat researchers’ team at retail giant Walmart has found a new variant of ransomware named Sugar, which is available to threat actors as a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS). 

Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) is a way for threat actors to make a lot of money from ransomware while reducing their own efforts. According to the data, this new variant of ransomware was initially dictated in November 2021, but the organization had no technical details before. 

The Sugar ransomware format is written in Delphi and also borrows objects from the other families of ransomware. Furthermore, unlike the other ransomware families, the new variant Sugar primarily targets individual computers instead of entire enterprises networks, but it is equally dangerous, especially since it is offered as a RaaS. Walmart said in its findings that the threat actors are using crypter which is one of the most interesting features of Sugar. 

The crypter is being used because it has code reuse from the ransomware itself which makes it significantly more interesting than your typical crypter. It also employs a modified version of the RC4 encryption. Because of that, the team of researchers thinks there are possibilities that the Sugar ransomware and its crypter are controlled by the same threat group, or the crypter is being offered to affiliates as part of the service. 

“The malware is written in Delphi but the interesting part […] was the reuse of the same routine from the crypter as part of the string decoding in the malware, this would lead us to believe that they have the same dev and the crypter is probably part of the build process or some service the main actor offers to their affiliates,” Walmart’s researchers noted. 

Why is Ransomware as a Service so dangerous? 

In just a few years Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) has become very prevalent among cybercriminals since its first attack, Cryptolocker, was identified in 2013. Researchers said that 3-4 new ransomware families are now being distributed through RaaS channels. 

It has been observed that the number of cases has been increased in recent years and at large numbers, networks are being compromised, which is a highly alarming behavior that indicates the involvement of professional malicious actors.

French Authorities Have Detained a Suspect in Case of Money Laundering of €19 Million

 

This week, French authorities apprehended a suspect under suspicion of laundering more than €19 million ($21.4 million) in ransomware extortion payouts. 

Law enforcement agencies have not revealed the accused's name, which has only been recognized as a person from the Vaucluse area in southeast France, and neither the title of the ransomware organization with which he worked. 

The detention this week follows as law enforcement agencies throughout the world have started to collaborate and crackdown on ransomware activities following years of recurrent attacks, most of which have disrupted government agencies and private sector organizations on many occasions. 

This year has seen several crackdowns targeting ransomware gangs, including: 

  • February – The arrest of Egregor/Maze members in Ukraine. 

According to French radio station France Inter, participants of the Egregor ransomware cartel were apprehended in Ukraine. The existence of a law enforcement activity was already verified by sources in the threat intelligence community. The Egregor gang, reportedly began operations in September 2020, follows a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) strategy. They rent ransomware strain access, but they depend on some other cybercrime gangs to organize attacks into corporate networks and distribute the file-encrypting ransomware. 

  • March – The arrest of a GandCrab affiliate in South Korea. 

The arrest of a 20-year-old accused on allegations of spreading and infecting victims with the GandCrab ransomware was announced by South Korean national police. The accused, whose identity has not been revealed, was a client of the GandCrab Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) cybercrime organization. Police described the suspect as an associate — or a distributor — who operated by obtaining copies of the GandCrab ransomware and spreading them via email to victims around South Korea. 

  • June – The arrest of a group of Ukrainian money launderers who worked with the Clop gang.

Representatives of the Clop ransomware gang, who were apprehended in Ukraine as part of an international law enforcement operation, also provided money-laundering facilities to other cybercrime organizations. The group was involved in both cyber-attacks and "a high-risk exchanger" that laundered funds for the Clop ransomware gang and other criminal groups, according to cryptocurrency exchange portal Binance. 

  • September – Sanctions against Suex, a Russian crypto-exchange used to process ransomware 

Suex, a cryptocurrency exchange incorporated in the Czech Republic but managed by Russia, was sanctioned by the US Treasury. According to a blockchain analysis company, Suex has assisted ransomware and other cybercrime organizations in laundering more than $160 million in stolen assets. Suex has aided in the processing of ransom payments to gangs like Conti, Ryuk, and Maze.

  • October – The arrest of 12 suspects behind the LockerGoga ransomware. 

According to Europol, twelve members of a ransomware cell were apprehended in Ukraine and Switzerland. The accused are suspected of orchestrating the ransomware attack that damaged Norsk Hydro in 2019, the organization was linked to 1,800 ransomware assaults in 71 countries.

  • November – The arrest of a REvil affiliate in Ukraine for the Kaseya attack. 

The US Department of Justice charged a 22-year-old Ukrainian national with coordinating the ransomware assaults against Kaseya servers on July 4th of this year.

  • December – The arrest of a Canadian citizen for the attack against an Alaskan healthcare provider. 

Since 2018, Canadian authorities had jailed an Ottawa resident on suspicion of organizing ransomware attacks on commercial companies and government agencies in Canada and the United States.

BlackCat, a New Rust-Based Ransomware Malware

 

The new ALPHV ransomware operation, dubbed BlackCat, debuted last month and has the potential to be the most sophisticated ransomware of the year, with a highly customizable feature set that allows for attacks on a wide range of corporate setups. The ransomware executable is built in Rust, a language that is not commonly used by malware developers but is gaining popularity due to its great efficiency and memory safety. 

BlackCat, like many other variants before it, operates as a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS), with the core developers recruiting affiliates to breach corporate environments and encrypt files, but not before stealing the said documents in a double extortion scheme to pressure the targets into paying the requested amount or risk exposing the stolen data if the companies refuse to pay up. 

Affiliates will receive varied revenue shares based on the magnitude of the ransom payment. For example, the affiliate receives 80% of ransom payments up to $1.5 million, 85% of payments up to $3 million, and 90% of payments exceeding $3 million. CNA reportedly paid a $40 million ransom to the Russian hacking outfit Evil Corp to demonstrate the amount of money an affiliate can earn from these RaaS programmes. This would translate to $36 million given to the affiliate under ALPHV's revenue sharing. 

 In a separate analysis of BlackCat, South Korean cybersecurity firm S2W stated that the ransomware conducts its malicious actions by referring to an internal configuration like other RaaS programmes, drawing comparisons to BlackMatter, another ransomware that emerged from the ashes of DarkSide in July only to cease operations in early November. 

 The ALPHV BlackCat malware has a number of innovative features that distinguish it from other ransomware operations. The ransomware is completely command-line driven, human-operated, and highly programmable, with the ability to employ various encryption techniques, propagate across systems, terminate virtual machines and ESXi VMs, and automatically wipe ESXi snapshots to prevent recovery. 

Each ALPHV ransomware executable includes a JSON configuration that allows customization of extensions, ransom notes, how data will be encrypted, prohibited folders/files/extensions, and the services and processes that will be terminated automatically. The threat actor claims that the ransomware may be modified to use four different encryption mechanisms. ALPHV BlackCat can also be programmed to exploit domain credentials to distribute the ransomware and encrypt other network devices. The executable will then extract PSExec to the %Temp% folder and utilise it to copy the ransomware to other network devices before executing it to encrypt the remote Windows machine.

Ransomware Threat Actors on the Rise in US, Target Big Organizations

 

A hacker earlier linked with the Thieflock ransomware campaign, currently might be using the rising Yanluowang ransomware in a chain of attacks against U.S organizations. Symantec cybersecurity experts, a subdivision of Broadcom software, discovered links between Yanluowang and Thieflock, details of the former were revealed in October after experts found its use against a big firm. They believe that a hacker has been using this ransomware to attack financial organizations in the U.S. The threat actor also compromised various firms in the manufacturing sector, engineering, consultancy, and IT services, using the novel ransomware.

Experts noticed a probable link between new Yanluowang attacks and earlier attacks which involved Thieflock, a RaaS (ransomware as a service), built by the Canthroid group, aka Fivehands. This shows how there's no loyalty in ransomware users, especially those who work as affiliates of RaaS operations. As per ThreatPost, "Data-capture tools are also part of the attack vector, including a screen capture tool and a file exfiltration tool (filegrab.exe), as well as Cobalt Strike Beacon, which researchers saw deployed against at least one target." 

The ransomware developers pivot here and there, they switch business based on profit margins offered by ransomware threat actors, there's no loyalty in the business, says Vikram Thakur, chief research manager at Symantec. The experts have given a summary of some of the tools used in these attacks (Yanluowang), a few of these share some commonalities with the 

Thieflock attacks, which may lead someone to believe that the actor orchestrating the attack is an expert with Thieflock's deployment. "In most scenarios, attackers use PowerShell to download tools to compromised systems, including BazarLoader, which assists in reconnaissance of a system before attacks occur. The attackers then enable RDP via registry to enable remote access, deploying the legitimate remote access tool ConnectWise, formerly known as ScreenConnect, once they’ve gained this access," said ThreatPost.

Lockean Multi-ransomware Hitting French Companies--CERT-FR

 

France’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-FR) professionals identified details about the tools and tactics used by a ransomware affiliate group, named Lockean. Over the past two years, the cyber group is targeting French companies continuously. Reportedly, at least eight French companies’ suffered data breaches on a large scale. The group steals data and executes malware from multiple ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operations. 

According to the data, the companies that have been victimized by this group are the transportation logistics firm Gefco, the newspaper Ouest-France and the pharmaceutical groups Fareva and Pierre Fabre, among a few others. 

“Based on incidents reported to the ANSSI and their commonalities, investigations were carried out by the Agency to confirm the existence of a single cybercriminal group responsible for these incidents, understand its modus operandi and distinguish its techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTPs…” 

“…First observed in June 2020, this group named Lockean is thought to have affiliated with several Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) including DoppelPaymer, Maze, Prolock, Egregor, and Sodinokibi. Lockean has a propensity to target French entities under a Big Game Hunting rationale), reads the report published by CERT-FR.” 

In 2020, Lockean was spotted for the very first time when the group targeted a French manufacturing company and executed DoppelPaymer ransomware on the network. Around June 2020 and March 2021, Lockean compromised at least seven more companies’ networks with various ransomware families including big names like Maze, Egregor, REvil, and ProLock. 

In most of the attacks, the hackers gained initial access to the victim network through Qbot/QakBot malware and post-exploitative tool CobaltStrike. Qbot/QakBot is a banking trojan that changed its role to spread other malware into the system, including ransomware strains ProLock, DoppelPaymer, and Egregor, CERT-FR officials said. 

The cybercriminal group had used the Emotet distribution service in 2020 and TA551 in 2020 and 2021 to distribute QakBot via phishing email. Additionally, the group used multiple tools for data exfiltration including AdFind, BITSAdmin, and BloodHound, and the RClone.

Links Detected Between MSHTML Zero-Day Attacks and Ransomware Operations

 

The exploitation of a recently fixed Windows zero-day vulnerability was attributed to known ransomware operators, according to Microsoft and threat intelligence firm RiskIQ.

The existence of the zero-day, called CVE-2021-40444, was revealed on September 7, when Microsoft released countermeasures and cautioned that the vulnerability had been exploited in targeted attacks using specially designed Office documents. 

The vulnerability connected to Office's MSHTML browser engine can and has been misused for remote code execution. As part of its Patch Tuesday updates, Microsoft delivered upgrades on September 14th. 

Microsoft announced the acquisition of RiskIQ in July and posted separate blog posts detailing the attacks exploiting CVE-2021-40444. 

The first exploitation efforts were discovered in mid-August. But Microsoft observed a massive spike in exploitation attempts when the proof-of-concept (PoC) code and other details were made public after the initial announcement. 

As per the company, several threat actors, including ransomware-as-a-service affiliates, have used the public PoC code, but some of the exploitation attempts are part of testing rather than criminal operations. 

The company initially saw less than ten exploitation attempts and leveraged CVE-2021-40444 to deliver custom Cobalt Strike Beacon loaders. Microsoft has identified the attackers as DEV-0413 — DEV is allotted to emerging threat groups or unusual activity. To deliver the malware, they apparently used emails referencing contracts and legal agreements to get the targets to open documents formatted to abuse the MSHTML vulnerability.

Surprisingly, the Cobalt Strike infrastructure utilised in the assaults has earlier been linked to cybercrime organisations known for targeting big corporations with ransomware like Conti and Ryuk. These threat actors are tracked as Wizard Spider (CrowdStrike), UNC1878 (FireEye), DEV-0193, and DEV-0365 (Microsoft).

RiskIQ stated in its blog post, “Despite the historical connections, we cannot say with confidence that the threat actor behind the zero-day campaign is part of WIZARD SPIDER or its affiliates, or is even a criminal actor at all, though it is possible. If the threat actors were part of these groups, it means they almost surely purchased the zero-day exploit from a third party because they have not previously shown the ability to develop exploit chains of this complexity.” 

The company added, “Instead, we assess with medium confidence that the goal of the operators behind the zero-day may, in fact, be traditional espionage. This goal could easily be obscured by a ransomware deployment and blend into the current wave of targeted ransomware attacks.” 

RiskIQ states that the cyberspies could have gained access to the ransomware infrastructure, or they may have been allowed by the ransomware operators to utilise their infrastructure. Only one group might be involved in espionage and cybercrime, or the two groups use the same bulletproof hosting provider. 

According to Microsoft, the initial malicious document in attacks abusing CVE-2021-40444 emerges from the internet, and it should be labelled as the "mark of the web." 

Microsoft Office should open the document in Protected Mode unless the user specifically allows modification, limiting the misuse. However, if the attackers figure out a means to keep the document from being a “mark of the web,” they may utilise the vulnerability to execute the payload on the page without requiring user input.

Ransomware Attacks Increased Exponentially in 2021

 

The growing threat of ransomware has been highlighted by NCC Group's Research Intelligence and Fusion Team (RIFT) analysis. Between January-March 2021 and April-June 2021, the number of ransomware assaults studied by the team climbed by 288%, indicating that enterprises are still facing waves of digital extortion in the form of targeted ransomware. 

The rise of the "triple extortion" ransomware technique whereby attackers, in addition to stealing sensitive data and threatening to release it publicly unless a payment is made, also target the organization's customers, vendors, or business partners in the same way, has fuelled the increase in attacks. 

Conti ransomware, which commonly employs email phishing to remote into a network via an employee's device, was responsible for 22% of ransomware data leaks studied between April and June. The Avaddon ransomware, which was linked to 17% of ransomware data leaks, was just behind it. While victims of this ransomware strain faced data encryption, the potential of data breaches, and the larger risk of DDoS attacks disrupting operations, the ransomware strain is now thought to be dormant. 

In addition to the substantial increase in ransomware assaults, organizations have seen a 29% of cyber-attacks worldwide, with the largest growth rates in the Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA) area and America, at 36% and 24%, respectively. While the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region witnessed only a 13% increase in attacks, it had the highest number of weekly cyber intrusions at 1,338. The weekly number for EMEA was 777, while the weekly number for America was 688. 

This issue is hurting organizations all over the world, with the United States accounting for 49% of victims with known locations in the last three months, followed by France at 7% and Germany at 4%. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in June, which was carried out by DarkSide ransomware affiliates, is one significant case. Oil supplies were disrupted, and there were fuel shortages across the United States as a result of the strike. 

Christo Butcher, global lead for threat intelligence at NCC Group, said: “Over the years, ransomware has become a significant threat to organizations and governments alike. We’ve seen targets range from IT companies and suppliers to financial institutions and critical national infrastructure providers, with ransomware-as-a-service increasingly being sold by ransomware gangs in a subscription model.” 

“It’s therefore crucial for organizations to be proactive about their resilience. This should include proactive remediation of security issues, and operating a least-privilege model, which means that if a user’s account is compromised, the attacker will only be able to access and/or destroy a limited amount of information,” he added.