Emsisoft

Ransomware Group Turns to Facebook Ads

It’s bad enough that many ransomware gangs now have blogs where they publish data stolen from companies that refuse to make an extortion payment. Now, one crime group has started using hacked Facebook accounts to run ads publicly pressuring their ransomware victims into paying up.

On the evening of Monday, Nov. 9, an ad campaign apparently taken out by the Ragnar Locker Team began appearing on Facebook. The ad was designed to turn the screws to the Italian beverage vendor Campari Group, which acknowledged on Nov. 3 that its computer systems had been sidelined by a malware attack.

On Nov. 6, Campari issued a follow-up statement saying “at this stage, we cannot completely exclude that some personal and business data has been taken.”

“This is ridiculous and looks like a big fat lie,” reads the Facebook ad campaign from the Ragnar crime group. “We can confirm that confidential data was stolen and we talking about huge volume of data.”

The ad went on to say Ragnar Locker Team had offloaded two terabytes of information and would give the Italian firm until 6 p.m. EST today (Nov. 10) to negotiate an extortion payment in exchange for a promise not to publish the stolen files.

The Facebook ad blitz was paid for by Hodson Event Entertainment, an account tied to Chris Hodson, a deejay based in Chicago. Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, Hodson said his Facebook account indeed was hacked, and that the attackers had budgeted $500 for the entire campaign.

“I thought I had two-step verification turned on for all my accounts, but now it looks like the only one I didn’t have it set for was Facebook,” Hodson said.

Hodson said a review of his account shows the unauthorized campaign reached approximately 7,150 Facebook users, and generated 770 clicks, with a cost-per-result of 21 cents. Of course, it didn’t cost the ransomware group anything. Hodson said Facebook billed him $35 for the first part of the campaign, but apparently detected the ads as fraudulent sometime this morning before his account could be billed another $159 for the campaign.

The results of the unauthorized Facebook ad campaign. Image: Chris Hodson.

It’s not clear whether this was an isolated incident, or whether the fraudsters also ran ads using other hacked Facebook accounts. A spokesperson for Facebook said the company is still investigating the incident. A request for comment sent via email to Campari’s media relations team was returned as undeliverable.

But it seems likely we will continue to see more of this and other mainstream advertising efforts by ransomware groups going forward, even if victims really have no expectation that paying an extortion demand will result in criminals actually deleting or not otherwise using stolen data.

Fabian Wosar, chief technology officer at computer security firm Emsisoft, said some ransomware groups have become especially aggressive of late in pressuring their victims to pay up.

“They have also started to call victims,” Wosar said. “They’re outsourcing to Indian call centers, who call victims asking when they are going to pay or have their data leaked.”

Why Paying to Delete Stolen Data is Bonkers

Companies hit by ransomware often face a dual threat: Even if they avoid paying the ransom and can restore things from scratch, about half the time the attackers also threaten to release sensitive stolen data unless the victim pays for a promise to have the data deleted. Leaving aside the notion that victims might have any real expectation the attackers will actually destroy the stolen data, new research suggests a fair number of victims who do pay up may see some or all of the stolen data published anyway.

The findings come in a report today from Coveware, a company that specializes in helping firms recover from ransomware attacks. Coveware says nearly half of all ransomware cases now include the threat to release exfiltrated data.

“Previously, when a victim of ransomware had adequate backups, they would just restore and go on with life; there was zero reason to even engage with the threat actor,” the report observes. “Now, when a threat actor steals data, a company with perfectly restorable backups is often compelled to at least engage with the threat actor to determine what data was taken.”

Coveware said it has seen ample evidence of victims seeing some or all of their stolen data published after paying to have it deleted; in other cases, the data gets published online before the victim is even given a chance to negotiate a data deletion agreement.

“Unlike negotiating for a decryption key, negotiating for the suppression of stolen data has no finite end,” the report continues. “Once a victim receives a decryption key, it can’t be taken away and does not degrade with time. With stolen data, a threat actor can return for a second payment at any point in the future. The track records are too short and evidence that defaults are selectively occurring is already collecting.”

Image: Coveware Q3 2020 report.

The company said it advises clients never to pay a data deletion ransom, but rather to engage competent privacy attorneys, perform an investigation into what data was stolen, and notify any affected customers according to the advice of counsel and application data breach notification laws.

Fabian Wosar, chief technology officer at computer security firm Emsisoft, said ransomware victims often acquiesce to data publication extortion demands when they are trying to prevent the public from learning about the breach.

“The bottom line is, ransomware is a business of hope,” Wosar said. “The company doesn’t want the data to be dumped or sold. So they pay for it hoping the threat actor deletes the data. Technically speaking, whether they delete the data or not doesn’t matter from a legal point of view. The data was lost at the point when it was exfiltrated.”

Ransomware victims who pay for a digital key to unlock servers and desktop systems encrypted by the malware also are relying on hope, Wosar said, because it’s also not uncommon that a decryption key fails to unlock some or all of the infected machines.

“When you look at a lot of ransom notes, you can actually see groups address this very directly and have texts that say stuff along the lines of, Yeah, you are fucked now. But if you pay us, everything can go back to before we fucked you.’”

Florence, Ala. Hit By Ransomware 12 Days After Being Alerted by KrebsOnSecurity

In late May, KrebsOnSecurity alerted numerous officials in Florence, Ala. that their information technology systems had been infiltrated by hackers who specialize in deploying ransomware. Nevertheless, on Friday, June 5, the intruders sprang their attack, deploying ransomware and demanding nearly $300,000 worth of bitcoin. City officials now say they plan to pay the ransom demand, in hopes of keeping the personal data of their citizens off of the Internet.

Nestled in the northwest corner of Alabama, Florence is home to roughly 40,000 residents. It is part of a quad-city metropolitan area perhaps best known for the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio that recorded the dulcet tones of many big-name music acts in the 1960s and 70s.

Image: Florenceal.org

On May 26, acting on a tip from Milwaukee, Wisc.-based cybersecurity firm Hold Security, KrebsOnSecurity contacted the office of Florence’s mayor to alert them that a Windows 10 system in their IT environment had been commandeered by a ransomware gang.

Comparing the information shared by Hold Security dark web specialist Yuliana Bellini with the employee directory on the Florence website indicated the username for the computer that attackers had used to gain a foothold in the network on May 6 belonged to the city’s manager of information systems.

My call was transferred to no fewer than three different people, none of whom seemed eager to act on the information. Eventually, I was routed to the non-emergency line for the Florence police department. When that call went straight to voicemail, I left a message and called the city’s emergency response team.

That last effort prompted a gracious return call the following day from a system administrator for the city, who thanked me for the heads up and said he and his colleagues had isolated the computer and Windows network account Hold Security flagged as hacked.

“I can’t tell you how grateful we are that you helped us dodge this bullet,” the technician said in a voicemail message for this author. “We got everything taken care of now, and some different protocols are in place. Hopefully we won’t have another near scare like we did, and hopefully we won’t have to talk to each other again.”

But on Friday, Florence Mayor Steve Holt confirmed that a cyberattack had shut down the city’s email system. Holt told local news outlets at the time there wasn’t any indication that ransomware was involved.

However, in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity Tuesday, Holt acknowledged the city was being extorted by DoppelPaymer, a ransomware gang with a reputation for negotiating some of the highest extortion payments across dozens of known ransomware families.

The average ransomware payment by ransomware strain. Source: Chainalysis.

Holt said the same gang appears to have simultaneously compromised networks belonging to four other victims within an hour of Florence, including another municipality that he declined to name. Holt said the extortionists initially demanded 39 bitcoin (~USD $378,000), but that an outside security firm hired by the city had negotiated the price down to 30 bitcoin (~USD $291,000).

Like many other cybercrime gangs operating these days, DoppelPaymer will steal reams of data from victims prior to launching the ransomware, and then threaten to publish or sell the data unless a ransom demand is paid.

Holt told KrebsOnSecurity the city can’t afford to see its citizens’ personal and financial data jeopardized by not paying.

“Do they have our stuff? We don’t know, but that’s the roll of the dice,” Holt said.

Steve Price, the Florence IT manager whose Microsoft Windows credentials were stolen on May 6 by a DHL-themed phishing attack and used to further compromise the city’s network, explained that following my notification on May 26 the city immediately took a number of preventative measures to stave off a potential ransomware incident. Price said that when the ransomware hit, they were in the middle of trying to get city leaders to approve funds for a more thorough investigation and remediation.

“We were trying to get another [cybersecurity] response company involved, and that’s what we were trying to get through the city council on Friday when we got hit,” Price said. “We feel like we can build our network back, but we can’t undo things if peoples’ personal information is released.”

A DoppelPaymer ransom note. Image: Crowdstrike.

Fabian Wosar, chief technology officer at Emsisoft, said organizations need to understand that the only step which guarantees a malware infestation won’t turn into a full-on ransomware attack is completely rebuilding the compromised network — including email systems.

“There is a misguided belief that if you were compromised you can get away with anything but a complete rebuild of the affected networks and infrastructure,” Wosar said, noting that it’s not uncommon for threat actors to maintain control even as a ransomware victim organization is restoring their systems from backups.

“They often even demonstrate that they still ‘own’ the network by publishing screenshots of messages talking about the incident,” Wosar said.

Hold Security founder Alex Holden said Florence’s situation is all too common, and that very often ransomware purveyors are inside a victim’s network for weeks or months before launching their malware.

“We often get glimpses of the bad guys beginning their assaults against computer networks and we do our best to let the victims know about the attack,” Holden said. “Since we can’t see every aspect of the attack we advise victims to conduct a full investigation of the events, based on the evidence collected. But when we deal with sensitive situations like ransomware, timing and precision are critical. If the victim will listen and seek out expert opinions, they have a great chance of successfully stopping the breach before it turns into ransom.”

Ransomware Hit ATM Giant Diebold Nixdorf

Diebold Nixdorf, a major provider of automatic teller machines (ATMs) and payment technology to banks and retailers, recently suffered a ransomware attack that disrupted some operations. The company says the hackers never touched its ATMs or customer networks, and that the intrusion only affected its corporate network.

Canton, Ohio-based Diebold [NYSE: DBD] is currently the largest ATM provider in the United States, with an estimated 35 percent of the cash machine market worldwide. The 35,000-employee company also produces point-of-sale systems and software used by many retailers.

According to Diebold, on the evening of Saturday, April 25, the company’s security team discovered anomalous behavior on its corporate network. Suspecting a ransomware attack, Diebold said it immediately began disconnecting systems on that network to contain the spread of the malware.

Sources told KrebsOnSecurity that Diebold’s response affected services for over 100 of the company’s customers. Diebold said the company’s response to the attack did disrupt a system that automates field service technician requests, but that the incident did not affect customer networks or the general public.

“Diebold has determined that the spread of the malware has been contained,” Diebold said in a written statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity. “The incident did not affect ATMs, customer networks, or the general public, and its impact was not material to our business. Unfortunately, cybercrime is an ongoing challenge for all companies. Diebold Nixdorf takes the security of our systems and customer service very seriously. Our leadership has connected personally with customers to make them aware of the situation and how we addressed it.”

NOT SO PRO LOCK

An investigation determined that the intruders installed the ProLock ransomware, which experts say is a relatively uncommon ransomware strain that has gone through multiple names and iterations over the past few months.

For example, until recently ProLock was better known as “PwndLocker,” which is the name of the ransomware that infected servers at Lasalle County, Ill. in March. But the miscreants behind PwndLocker rebranded their malware after security experts at Emsisoft released a tool that let PwndLocker victims decrypt their files without paying the ransom.

Diebold claims it did not pay the ransom demanded by the attackers, although the company wouldn’t discuss the amount requested. But Lawrence Abrams of BleepingComputer said the ransom demanded for ProLock victims typically ranges in the six figures, from $175,000 to more than $660,000 depending on the size of the victim network.

Fabian Wosar, Emsisoft’s chief technology officer, said if Diebold’s claims about not paying their assailants are true, it’s probably for the best: That’s because current versions of ProLock’s decryptor tool will corrupt larger files such as database files.

As luck would have it, Emsisoft does offer a tool that fixes the decryptor so that it properly recovers files held hostage by ProLock, but it only works for victims who have already paid a ransom to the crooks behind ProLock.

“We do have a tool that fixes a bug in the decryptor, but it doesn’t work unless you have the decryption keys from the ransomware authors,” Wosar said.

WEEKEND WARRIORS

BleepingComputer’s Abrams said the timing of the attack on Diebold — Saturday evening — is quite common, and that ransomware purveyors tend to wait until the weekends to launch their attacks because that is typically when most organizations have the fewest number of technical staff on hand. Incidentally, weekends also are the time when the vast majority of ATM skimming attacks take place — for the same reason.

“After hours on Friday and Saturday nights are big, because they want to pull the trigger [on the ransomware] when no one is around,” Abrams said.

Many ransomware gangs have taken to stealing sensitive data from victims before launching the ransomware, as a sort of virtual cudgel to use against victims who don’t immediately acquiesce to a ransom demand.

Armed with the victim’s data — or data about the victim company’s partners or customers — the attackers can then threaten to publish or sell the information if victims refuse to pay up. Indeed, some of the larger ransomware groups are doing just that, constantly updating blogs on the Internet and the dark Web that publish the names and data stolen from victims who decline to pay.

So far, the crooks behind ProLock haven’t launched their own blog. But Abrams said the crime group behind it has indicated it is at least heading in that direction, noting that in his communications with the group in the wake of the Lasalle County attack they sent him an image and a list of folders suggesting they’d accessed sensitive data for that victim.

“I’ve been saying this ever since last year when the Maze ransomware group started publishing the names and data from their victims: Every ransomware attack has to be treated as a data breach now,” Abrams said.