Big Week For Ransomware

Inventive new variants and damaging attacks swept through the headlines this week.

Sara Peters, Senior Editor

January 28, 2016

3 Min Read

What a week for ransomware. The bullish code that extorts users by locking or encrypting their files and devices has made headlines all week. In case you missed it, here's a roundup.

Israeli Electric Authority

While more information was emerging about the December attack on the electric grid in Ukraine, the Israeli energy sector tried to get in on the action, reporting an attack at the Israel Electric Authority.

Yet, the initial excitement abated when it turned out that the event was a far cry from a major blackout. According to Rob Lee of the SANS Institute, The Israel Electric Authority is just a regulatory body, and the attack was simply a ransomware infection affecting some of their 30 employees.

Lincolnshire County Council

The Register reports that a local government agency in the United Kingdom has fallen victim to a ransomware attack so widespread that it's shut the whole place down.

The unnamed ransomware took root in a computer of the Lincolnshire County Council -- which manages local services like libraries, roads, childcare, adult care, education, and vital records -- after a staff member opened a malicious email attachment.

After getting that foothoold, the malware spread and took over 300 computers. The Council told The Register their systems may not be up again until next week.

Faking SalesForce

Meanwhile, Heimdal Security has found the CryptoWall 4.0 ransomware running a new sophisticated new campaign that ships out phishing messages that appear to come from customer relationship management software giant SalesForce.

The messages use a variety of subject headings that often include the recipient's name and reference "invoices" or "contract confirmations." The payload is delivered via malicious attachments.

Heimdal researchers wrote about the CryptoWall team's history of rapidly rolling out new variants. Although version 4.0 just hit the scene in November, Heimdal posits that Cryptowall 5.0 is just around the corner, and may appear as soon as March.

New Android Ransomware

Symantec unearthed an inventive new strain of Android ransomware that uses a twist on clickjacking to trick users into executing. Lockdroid.E can both encrypt all a victim's files on the device and take full administrative control of the Android device. 

Lockdroid poses as a porn app (only available on third-party stores, not the official Google Play shop). The app tells the user it is installing a package -- displaying a message that states "please wait, unpacking the components" -- while it's actually busy encrypting all your files while you wait.

When it's done with that part of its nefarious work, Lockdroid displays a screen informing the user that the installation is complete and instructs them to click the "continue" button. Little does the user know that the screen they see is just an image overlay, and the button they're actually clicking is to "activate" the NastyDevAdmin application that gives the attacker authority to lock the screen, change the PIN, and delete files.

Symantec says nearly 67 percent of Android devices are at risk to this threat.

A Greedy New Brand

Bleeping Computer spotted another new piece of kit that breaks the usual ransomware business model. Normally, operators go for volume, distributing their code widely and setting their ransom in the modest $300 range, though Cryptowall 4.0 upped the ante to $700.

The 7ev3n ransomware has gone a different direction. So far only one victim has been seen and the demand is a payoff of 13 Bitcoin, or about $5,000.

That's not the only way 7ev3n is unique. Although the infection at the solitary victim organization spread to multiple endpoints, the initial infection was in a server, not a client device. Plus, it combines both old-school ransomware and crypto-ransomware tactics -- encrypting files and locking the entire device.

About the Author(s)

Sara Peters

Senior Editor

Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad of other topics. She authored the 2009 CSI Computer Crime and Security Survey and founded the CSI Working Group on Web Security Research Law -- a collaborative project that investigated the dichotomy between laws regulating software vulnerability disclosure and those regulating Web vulnerability disclosure.

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