In 2016 business ransomware attacks increased three-fold, representing a change from an attack every 2 minutes in January to one every 40 seconds in October.
In 2016 ransomware attacks on business increased three-fold: which represents a change from an attack every 2 minutes in January to one every 40 seconds by October. For individuals, the rate of increase went from every 20 seconds to every 10 seconds. With more than 62 new families of ransomware introduced during the year, the threat grew so aggressively that Kaspersky Lab has named ransomware its key topic for 2016.
The Story of the Year paper forms part of Kaspersky Lab’s annual Kaspersky Security Bulletin that looks back over the year’s major threats and data and predicts what to expect in 2017. Among other things, 2016 revealed the extent to which the Ransomware-as-a-Service business model now appeals to criminals who lack the skills, resources or inclination to develop their own. Under the arrangement, code creators offer their malicious product ‘on demand’, selling uniquely modified versions to customers who then distribute it through spam and websites, paying a commission to the creator – the main financial beneficiary.
“The classic ‘affiliate’ business model appears to be working as effectively for ransomware as it does for other types of malware. Victims often pay up so money keeps flowing through the system. Inevitably this has led to us seeing new cryptors appear almost daily,” said Fedor Sinitsyn, Senior Malware Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
The Evolution of Ransomware in 2016
In 2016, ransomware continued its rampage across the world, becoming more sophisticated and diverse and tightening its hold on data and devices, individuals and businesses.
· Attacks on businesses increased significantly. According to Kaspersky Lab research, one in every five businesses worldwide suffered an IT security incident as a result of a ransomware attack and one in every five smaller business never got their files back, even after paying.
· Some industry sectors were harder hit than others, but our research shows there is no such thing as a low-risk sector: with the highest rate of attack around 23% (Education) and the lowest 16% (Retail and Leisure).
· ‘Educational’ ransomware, developed to give system administrators a tool to simulate ransomware attacks was quickly and ruthlessly exploited by criminals, giving rise to Ded_Cryptor and Fantom, among others.
· New approaches to ransomware attacks seen for the first time in 2016 included disk encryption, where attackers block access to, or encrypt, not just a couple of files, but all of them at once – Petya is one example. Dcryptor, also known as Mamba, went one step further, locking down the entire hard drive, with the attackers brute-forcing passwords for remote access to a victim machine.
· The ransomware Shade demonstrated ability to change its approach to a victim if an infected computer turned out to belong to financial services, downloading and installing spyware instead of encrypting the victim’s files.
· There was a marked rise in low-quality; unsophisticated ransomware Trojans with software flaws and sloppy errors in the ransom notes – increasing the likelihood of victims never recovering their data.
Fortunately, 2016 also saw the world begin to unite to fight back. The No More Ransom project, launched in July, brings together law enforcement and security vendors to track down and disrupt the big ransomware families, helping individuals to get their data back and undermining the criminals’ lucrative business model.
The latest versions of Kaspersky Lab products for smaller companies have been enhanced with anti-cryptomalware functionality. In addition, a new, free anti-ransomware tool has been made available for all businesses to download and use, regardless of the security solution they use.
Cons exploit Telegram ICO
Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.
In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.
The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.
Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.
“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:
- Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
- Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
- Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.
Crouching Yeti strikes
Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.
According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.
Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.
Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.
In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.
Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.
“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.
“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.
Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.
More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.