Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

2/22/2017
09:00 AM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Speak Up: Ransomware Attack Uses Voice Recognition

New variant of Android ransomware comes with a bizarre twist.

[UPDATED 9:50AM ET with new ESET information]

First there was a ransomware attack that spoke to its victims via a voice message, and now there's one in the wild that requires the victim read aloud - via voice recognition - the code to free his or her infected mobile device.

Symantec researchers recently spotted a new variant of the so-called Android.Lockdroid.E mobile ransomware that now employs speech recognition APIs for the victim to input the unlock code rather than type it after paying the ransom. This bizarre yet creative twist to raises more questions than it answers about the attackers' intent, given the obvious inefficiency and potential fallibility of the voice-recognition step.

The attack thus far has been targeting Chinese-speaking victims, and a ransom note written in Mandarin appears on the infected device's window with instructions to contract the attackers via QQ instant messaging to receive payment instructions and the unlock code.

Since the victim's device is locked up with the ransomware, he or she must use a separate device to contact the attackers, which in and of itself could discourage or preclude payment if the victim doesn't obtain another mobile device to finish the transaction.

That bulky and inefficient feature of the attack has researchers baffled. The attackers may well just be "live-testing" this as another payment approach, says Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Security Response.

But Haley says it's likely this new voice recognition feature could backfire on the Lockdroid attackers. "My guess is this isn't going to work as well," he says. "If the victim can't figure out how to pay the ransom, [the campaign] isn't going to do so well," Haley says, adding that the researchers were unable to discern how many victims had fallen for the attack.

Android.Lockdroid.E's new voice-recognition step follows its previous version's similarly odd step of requiring the victim to scan a barcode in order to log into the QQ messaging app: via a separate, second device. Symantec a year ago first detailed the barcode feature, noting that the malware posed as a porn app and gave the attackers admin rights on the infected device.

The newest version harbors a few implementation bugs, according to Symantec, including improper speech recognition intent-firing and copy/paste flaws. The researchers say the authors likely are experimenting with new features to shake down their victims.

Lockdroid.E is similar but not related to another mobile ransomware variant dubbed Android/LockScreen.Jisut by ESET, whose number of detections doubled in 2016 over the previous year, according to new ESET data. Lukas Stefanko, a malware researcher at ESET, says his firm calls LockDroid.E Android/LockerPin or Android/Locker.

Symantec pointed out similarities between the two Android ransomware variants: "The usage of QQ messenger as the communication platform is common across this wave of ransomware, and almost all of the Lockdroid and LockScreen variants that use Mandarin instructions share similar properties," says Dinesh Venkatesan, principal threat analysis engineer at Symantec. "In short, we can say that they may be from similar groups, but we don't have solid proof that the two ransomware variants are related."

An earlier variant of Android/LockScreen.Jisut actually spoke to the victims via a voice message. "After infecting the device, a female voice speaking Chinese 'congratulated' the victim and asked for 40 Yuans (approx. 6 dollars) to unlock it," ESET said in a mobile ransomware report published this month.

That was likely the handiwork of young Chinese attackers—possibly teenagers, according to ESET. Unlike most ransomware that requires payment via Bitcoin or pre-paid cash vouchers to keep the money and recipient hidden, the LockScreen attackers don't seem to be trying to hide. "If the information in the QQ profiles is valid, the malware operators are Chinese youths between 17 and 22 years old," ESET said in its report.

Service With A Fee

Symantec's Haley notes that other ransomware attackers are providing more "customer service" such as instant messaging assistance to help their victims learn about Bitcoin and how to obtain it, for example. "They're just out there trying to get their percentage of [victim] customers up," he says.

Ransomware overall is exploding: new data this week from Check Point found that ransomware attacks doubled around the globe in the second half of 2016, from 5.5% to 10.5% of all attacks. Desktop ransomware families Locky (41%), Cryptowall (27%), and Cerber (23%) are the biggest culprits.

The Hummingbad family of malware rules the mobile ransomware world for now, at 60%, according to Check Point. Meantime, other less pervasive but more bizarre forms of ransomware such as Lockdroid. E are popping up on mobile devices as ransomware authors toy with new ways to shake down their victims.

Lockdroid is going through "an evolution," Symantec's Haley notes.

Related Content:

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/13/2020
Omdia Research Launches Page on Dark Reading
Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading 7/9/2020
Why Cybersecurity's Silence Matters to Black Lives
Tiffany Ricks, CEO, HacWare,  7/8/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-10987
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-13
The goform/setUsbUnload endpoint of Tenda AC15 AC1900 version 15.03.05.19 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary system commands via the deviceName POST parameter.
CVE-2020-10988
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-13
A hard-coded telnet credential in the tenda_login binary of Tenda AC15 AC1900 version 15.03.05.19 allows unauthenticated remote attackers to start a telnetd service on the device.
CVE-2020-10989
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-13
An XSS issue in the /goform/WifiBasicSet endpoint of Tenda AC15 AC1900 version 15.03.05.19 allows remote attackers to execute malicious payloads via the WifiName POST parameter.
CVE-2020-10986
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-13
A CSRF issue in the /goform/SysToolReboot endpoint of Tenda AC15 AC1900 version 15.03.05.19 allows remote attackers to reboot the device and cause denial of service via a payload hosted by an attacker-controlled web page.
CVE-2019-19338
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-13
A flaw was found in the fix for CVE-2019-11135, in the Linux upstream kernel versions before 5.5 where, the way Intel CPUs handle speculative execution of instructions when a TSX Asynchronous Abort (TAA) error occurs. When a guest is running on a host CPU affected by the TAA flaw (TAA_NO=0), but is ...