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Rorschach Ransomware: What You Need to Know

Learn how the latest ransomware variant has heightened attack execution speed and what that means for cybersecurity operations.

Raj Gopalakrishna

June 20, 2023

4 Min Read
Mock Rorshach blot made out of hand images
Source: Igor Kovalchuk via Alamy Stock Photo

There has always been a competition in the ransomware world, with attackers trying to improve the speed of campaign execution and organizations continuously innovating to get ahead of those attacks. Speed is so decisive that ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) platforms even advertise the speed of execution for prospective ransomware affiliates. LockBit, one of the most successful ransomware groups, has publicly listed its encryption speed versus its competitors' speed to demonstrate its advantage. In short, speed is critical on both sides of the ransomware battle.

Rorschach, one of the newest ransomware variants, has officially taken the "encryption speed king" title from LockBit 3.0. The Rorschach variant was first detected in April 2023 and is a customized strain of the Babuk ransomware code. Rorschach brings speed into the spotlight and warrants a closer look at how ransomware creators increase speed across multiple dimensions of their victims' environment.

Malware Propagation Speed

One important speed component is the ability to quickly spread malware as far and wide as possible. In the past, ransomware groups have leveraged many techniques for fast propagation, including supply chain attacks and using existing IT and security tools to propagate their malware.

However, Rorschach has built and demonstrated an interesting self-propagating and autonomous capability that leverages Active Directory (AD) Domain Group Policy Objects (GPO). This enables the malware to rapidly propagate across the network and execute ransomware on every endpoint at blistering speeds. Because of this, the Rorschach variant has pushed the needle further than ever with these interesting innovations for self-propagation.

To counter this innovation, organizations must adopt tools that combat self-propagation, such as active defense technology, which deals with ransomware in real time and detects attackers as soon as possible.

Data Encryption Speed for Extortion

On Windows endpoints, Rorschach's creators have carefully chosen to use HC-128, a stream cipher that encrypts large streams of file data with impressive performance. Rorschach ransomware uses the asymmetric key exchange method, which is based on Curve25519. It's efficient in both computational performance and memory consumption while simultaneously retaining strong security.

Like many other ransomware strains, including LockBit and Babuk, Rorschach encrypts only parts of a file instead of the entire file's contents. This tactic is known as intermittent encryption, which has become popular in the last couple of years for its efficiency and speed. Encrypting only parts of the file dramatically reduces the time required to complete the data encryption. By shortening the encryption phase of an attack, ransomware operators give security tools less opportunity to detect them. Data encryption is the visible part of an attack, and attackers are shortening that window to better their odds in the race against defenders.

Like LockBit and other well-known ransomware, Rorschach also leverages parallelism and multithreading for high-performance speedy encryption. Because Rorschach ransomware implementation is customized for each operating system type, it leverages specific Windows capabilities known as I/O completion ports for efficient multithreaded encryption. This technique is borrowed from LockBit 3.0, REvil, Hive, BlackMatter, and DarkSide.

While the data encryption speed rankings among ransomware gangs is interesting, it is important to note that virtually all modern ransomware variants already perform data encryption very quickly. Unfortunately, all are much faster than what most security teams or tools are equipped to deal with.

However, while Rorschach does outpace competitors in speed in some realms, it currently does not appear to exfiltrate data for double extortion. This is in comparison to other ransomware gangs, including LockBit, that first exfiltrate enterprise data. While data encryption is the visible part of a ransomware attack, data exfiltration is the invisible race against defenders. Ransomware actors typically exfiltrate large amounts of data for double extortion before beginning data encryption.

Staying Under the Radar of Defenders

One of Rorschach's particularly innovative moves is its ability to stay under the radar by using deception technology — a double-edged sword that is useful for attackers and defenders. Rorschach's advanced security evasion capabilities leverage deception techniques and concepts for malicious purposes, including using obfuscation techniques, valid domain user and service accounts, and argument spoofing techniques to hide the true capabilities of the ransomware.

This kind of defense evasion is new to ransomware threats, but it's not new in the cybersecurity world. To combat Rorschach's technique for self-propagation using AD GPOs and high-speed campaigns, defenders need solutions that can detect and respond to real-time, novel, and autonomous ransomware capabilities.

Rorschach ransomware has borrowed innovations from previously successful ransomware groups including LockBit, Babuk, and REvil and built on their success by adding lightning-fast innovations. The Rorschach variant demonstrates the importance of continuous defender innovation, as well as the need to counter attacker movement in real time.

About the Author(s)

Raj Gopalakrishna

Co-Founder & Chief Product Architect, Acalvio Technologies

Raj Gopalakrishna is a Co-Founder and Chief Product Architect at Acalvio Technologies. Raj brings 30+ years of R&D experience and holds over 20 patents. Prior to joining Acalvio, Raj was SVP and Distinguished Engineer at CA Technologies (acquired by Broadcom in 2018) and the VP of R&D at Arcot Systems.

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