Getting hit by ransomware is nasty business at any time. But victims of some new variants of a ransomware sample called Jigsaw should count themselves a tad luckier than others.
The purveyors of the malware have considerately introduced a new live chat feature that gives victims a way to directly contact their extortionists and negotiate a ransom payment. Instead of requiring customers to go to dark web sites, the operators have made people available to answer questions and provide direction to victims on how to pay the ransom.
Security vendor Trend Micro, which reported on the chat feature this week, said the threats displayed by the new Jigsaw variants are similar to the threats displayed to victims of the original version of the ransomware. Jigsaw first surfaced earlier this year and was notable at the time for what Trend Micro described as its tendency to lock and delete files incrementally. “To an extent, it instills fear and pressures users into paying the ransom. It even comes with an image of Saw’s very own Billy the puppet, and the red digital clock to boot,” Trend Micro said about that version.
The new versions of Jigsaw are not different in that respect. But in addition to the usual threats about the ransom amount doubling after a specific period of time and data being deleted if any attempt is made to tamper with the program, the screen also displays a link, which appears to go to a live chat session.
To test the service the attackers offered, a Trend Micro researcher posed as a New York-based worker whose office computer had been infected with Jigsaw. The ensuing conversation, a transcript of which is pasted on Trend Micro’s blog, suggests that the chat operator is willing to negotiate a little on the price and wants to reassure the "victim" about the data being decrypted upon receipt of the ransom.
“The cybercriminals behind this JIGSAW variant didn’t build their own chat client; instead they used onWebChat, a publicly available chat platform,” Trend Micro said. “A script that calls the onWebChat client is embedded in the website.”
The connection between the website that the victim is directed to for payment and onWebchat’s servers are encrypted making interception and packet capture difficult, according to the security vendor.
Somewhat interestingly, the individual conducting the chat conversation did not appear to know the ransom amount that the victim was being asked to pay and appeared reliant on the honesty of the victim to provide that information. “That’s because they haven’t built a channel to upload data from the victim to the ‘call center,’” says Christopher Budd, global threat communications manager at Trend Micro.
The countdown clock associated with the ransomware also is only tied to a cookie set on the infected machine by the attackers. If the cookie is deleted, the timer is reset to 24 hours, Trend Micro said. By providing a human voice to go to and by making the process of paying the ransom easier, the purveyors of the new Jigsaw variant appear to be trying to convince users into paying up, the vendor noted.
“This is a first for ransomware, but this type of support is consistent with a broader trend of professionalization” in the cybercrime industry, Budd says. Increasingly, cybercriminals have begun using professional levels of support and marketing as competitive differentiators amongst themselves in the cyber underground.
Many have begun extending this professionalism to victims as well. For example, just like the operators of Jigsaw have made live chat support available for victims, some cybrercriminals have been working to make things like TOR easier for victims to use, he says.
“Here again we see professionalization, this time in the area of usability, being brought to bear,” Budd says.
Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio