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Ransomware is defined as vicious malware that locks users out of their devices or blocks access to files until a sum of money or ransom is paid. Ransomware attacks cause downtime, data loss, possible intellectual property theft, and in certain industries an attack is considered a data breach.
Ransomware Attack Examples
There are thousands of strains of ransomware malware. Below we list a few malware examples that made a global impact and caused widespread damage.
WannaCry is an entrypting ransomware that exploits a vulnerability in the Windows SMB protocol, and has a self-propagation mechanism that lets it infect other machines. WannaCry is packaged as a dropper, a self-contained program that extracts the encryption/decryption application, files containing encryption keys, and the Tor communication program. It is not obfuscated and relatively easy to detect and remove. In 2017 WannaCry spread rapidly across 150 countries, affecting 230,000 computers and causing an estimated $4 billion in damages.
Cerber is ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS), and is available for use by cybercriminals, who carry out attacks and spread their loot with the malware developer. Cerber runs silently while it is encrypting files, and may try to prevent antivirus and Windows security features from running, to prevent users from restoring the system. When it successfully encrypts files on the machine, it displays a ransom note on the desktop wallpaper.
Locky is able to encrypt 160 file types, primarily files used by designers, engineers and testers. It was first released in 2016. It is primarily distributed by exploit kits or phishing—attackers send emails that encourage the user to open a Microsoft Office Word or Excel file with malicious macros, or a ZIP file that installs the malware upon extraction.
Cryptolocker was released in 2017, and affected over 500,000 computers. It typically infects computers through email, file sharing sites, and unprotected downloads. It not only encrypts files on the local machine, but can also scan mapped network drives, and encrypt files it has permission to write to. New variants of Crypolocker are able to elude legacy antivirus software and firewalls.
NotPetya and Petya
Petya is ransomware that infects a machine and encrypts an entire hard drive, by accessing the Master File Table (MFT). This makes the entire disk inaccessible, although the actual files are not encrypted. Petya was first seen in 2016, and was spread mainly through a fake job application message linking to an infected file stored in Dropbox. It only affected Windows computers.
Petya requires the user to agree to give it permission to make admin-level changes. After the user agrees, it reboots the computer, shows a fake system crash screen, while it starts encrypting the disk behind the scenes. It then shows the ransom notice.
The original Petya virus was not highly successful, but a new variant, named NotPetya by Kaspersky Labs, proved to be more dangerous. NotPetya is equipped with a propagation mechanism, and is able to spread without human intervention.
NotPetya originally spread using a backdoor in accounting software used widely in the Ukraine, and later used EternalBlue and EternalRomance, vulnerabilities in the Windows SMB protocol. NotPetya not only encrypts the MFT but also other files on the hard drive. While encrypting the data, it damages it in such a way that it cannot be recovered. Users who pay the ransom cannot actually get their data back.
Ryuk infects machines via phishing emails or drive-by downloads. It uses a dropper, which extracts a trojan on the victim’s machine and establishes a persistent network connection. Attackers can then use Ryuk as a basis for an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT), installing additional tools like keyloggers, performing privilege escalation and lateral movement. Ryuk is installed on each additional system the attackers gain access to.
Once the attackers have installed the trojan on as many machines as possible, they activate the locker ransomware and encrypt the files. In a Ryuk-based attack campaign, the ransomware aspect is only the last stage of the attack, after the attackers have already done damage and stolen the files they need.
GrandCrab was released in 2018. It encrypts files on a user’s machine and demands a ransom, and was used to launch ransomware-based extortion attacks, where attackers threatened to reveal victims’ porn-watching habits. There are several versions, all of which target Windows machines. Free decryptors are available today for most versions of GrandCrab.
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