Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: Million Dollar Extortion Payments and TheDarkOverlord Loses Credibility

Ransomware made headlines this past week due to several infections that disrupted business operations, as well as a million dollar extortion payment that was negotiated by South Korean web hosting firm Nayana after its servers were infected with Erebus Ransomware on June 10. Nayana said the payment was necessary to restore 150 servers and the 3,400 affected client websites, most of which were for small companies and startups.

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The initial ransom demand was for 5 billion won ($4.4 million) in bitcoin, but the company managed to negotiate the payment down to 1.3 billion won ($1.1 million or 397.6 bitcoin). In a statement on the company’s website (Korean language) on Thursday, Nayana CEO Hwang Chilghong said he knows the company should not negotiate with hackers, but that the damage was too widespread and too many people would be harmed if the company did not pay the extortion.

WannaCry was also back in the news this week due to Honda Motor saying that plants in Japan, North America, Europe, China, and other regions were recently infected with the ransomware despite efforts to protect their networks following last month’s WannaCry outbreak. One location, a Sayama automobile plant located near Tokyo, was idled due to the infection. Authorities in Victoria, Australia also announced that 55 traffic and speed cameras were accidentally infected with WannaCry due to a maintenance worker using an infected USB stick. Local media reported that the police have decided to cancel 590 fines sent to road users caught by the WannaCry-infected cameras.

Other ransomware news includes Waverly Health Center in Iowa being infected with an unknown ransomware variant and having to shut down their IT systems for a period of time, and Proofpoint researchers saying that the ransomware infections recently reported at several UK universities were part of a larger malvertising campaign carried out by the AdGholas group that leveraged the Astrum Exploit Kit to spread Mole ransomware.

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Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • Massive voter database leaked: A database containing detailed information on 198 million U.S. voters and compiled by GOP political consultant Deep Root Analytics was left exposed to the Internet for 12 days. The information included data pulled from voter lists maintained by the RNC that was augmented by other sources such as social media sites. The leak includes data on some voters such as ethnicity, religion, contact information, and views on a variety of political issues. In addition, the data included proprietary information such as unique RNC identifiers for each voter.
  • POS breach discovered at The Buckle: The clothing store chain The Buckle announced that point-of-sale (POS) malware was discovered on some of its retail POS systems and that some payment cards used between October 28, 2016 and April 14, 2017 may have been affected. The Buckle believes that the malware did not collect data from all transactions or all POS systems for each day within that time period. The company also said that all stores had EMV technology enabled during the time that the incident occurred, which helped to limit the impact of the breach.
  • Services disrupted: The CyberTeam hacking group announced on Twitter that it was responsible for the outage that affected Skype on Monday and Tuesday. Microsoft has not confirmed the cause of the outage, but the service was reported down in multiple countries across Europe, as well as Japan, Singapore, India, Pakistan, and South Africa. Square Enix said that Final Fantasy XIV game servers were being repeatedly targeted by DDoS attacks from an anonymous third party.
  • More incidents tied to errors and glitches: The email addresses of registered consultancies of the UK government’s Cyber Essentials scheme were exposed due to a configuration error in the Pervade Software platform, according to the IASME Consortium, which runs the accreditation. The sensitive personal information of students was compromised when a staff member at the UK’s University of East Anglia “mistakenly” emailed a spreadsheet with confidential data to 320 American Studies students. A man used a glitch to steal more than £99,000 from the Clydesdale Yorkshire Bank last December when, for approximately one hour, the man’s account showed a credit balance even though he did not have any money.
  • Other notable incidents: Online banking service Ffrees notified its users that some of their personal information was “temporarily exposed” due to an “information security incident.” Virgin Media is advising more than 800,000 customers using the Super Hub 2 router to change both their network and router passwords if they are using the default passwords shown on the device’s attached sticker. Torrance Memorial Medical Center said a phishing attack compromised email accounts containing “work-related reports” and the personal data of patients. The latest batch of CIA documents released by WikiLeaks, dubbed “Brutal Kangaroo,” revolves around “a tool suite for Microsoft Windows that targets closed networks by air gap jumping using thumbdrives.” A joint law enforcement action known as the eCommerce Action 2017 led to the arrest of 76 professional fraudsters and members of Internet-based criminal networks across 26 countries.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

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Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-06-23_RiskScoresLarson Studios, the family-owned audio post-production business that was hacked by TheDarkOverlord, has finally provided public comments about the December 2016 attack that led to the theft of a variety of unaired episodes from major studios. That incident led to leak of ten episodes of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and eight episodes of ABC’s Steve Harvey’s Funderdome.

The takeaway from company president Rick Larson following the ordeal: “Don’t trust hackers.”

He learned that lesson after Larson Studios eventually paid TheDarkOverlord a $50,000 ransom as part of an agreement between the two to keep the breach private. However, a few months later the FBI told Larson Studios that TheDarkOverlord was attempting to extort the company’s clients with the stolen video, and the group then tried to publicly pressure Netflix and others into paying a ransom demand.

Why TheDarkOverlord would attempt to double-dip on the group’s ransom demand is somewhat puzzling. As SurfWatch Labs has noted in multiple blogs, the group has spent the past year carefully projecting an image of professionalism, framing its extortion demands as straightforward “business proposals” and using the media to try to spread the group’s message: pay up and everything will quietly go away. For example, in June 2016 when the group first began making headlines, TheDarkOverlord used the media to warn companies, “Next time an adversary comes to you and offers you an opportunity to cover this up and make it go away for a small fee to prevent the leak, take the offer.” They also warned that the ransom payment would be “a modest amount compared to the damage that will be caused” from a public leak. The group’s tone did not change when it came to extorting Netflix nearly a year later: “You’re going to lose a lot more money in all of this than what our modest offer was.”

It appears that after a full year of trying to build that image as a “trustworthy” extortionist, TheDarkOverlord has now lost its credibility — and, it should be noted, that credibility is what pushed companies like Larson Studios over the edge when deciding if the company should pay. As Rick Larson told Variety, previous media reports suggested that paying TheDarkOverlord actually worked.

TheDarkOverlord appears to be in damage control now, and the group is trying to regain that credibility by arguing that Larson Studios violated its agreement by contacting the FBI. The group also continues to leak data on other organizations, but hopefully those organizations will take heed of the message from Rick Larson to never put their trust in hackers — and it’s clear that now includes TheDarkOverlord.

TheDarkOverlord Targets Entertainment Sector with Leak of Unaired ABC Show

On Monday, the extortion group known as TheDarkOverlord released the first eight episodes of ABC’s soon-to-be-aired television show “Steve Harvey’s Funderdome” on the torrent site The Pirate Bay.

The leak of the ABC show follows a similar failed extortion attempt and subsequent leak of the first ten episodes of Netflix’s upcoming season of “Orange is the New Black” on April 28. At the time of the Netflix leak, TheDarkOverlord claimed to have stolen hundreds of gigabytes of unreleased and non-public media from a studio — including a total of 37 different film and TV titles. That leak was then tied to Larson Studios, an award-winning audio post-production studio in Hollywood.

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As a result, Monday’s leak was likely not a surprise to ABC. TheDarkOverlord has been tweeting about the theft since late April and The New York Times reported that the FBI began notifying the affected companies of the theft a month before that.

Who is TheDarkOverlord?

There isn’t much known about TheDarkOverlord as the group is very careful about exposing information that could relate to its members’ identities. This actor is smart and calculated but also has become bolder and more arrogant as evidenced in communication with recent victims — as well as very recently even setting up a help desk like hotline.

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There have been dozens of targets publicly tied to data theft and extortion by TheDarkOverlord over the past year.

“Time to play another round,” the group wrote in a Pastebin post announcing the leak on Monday. “We’re following through on our threats as we always do. We firmly believe that honesty and determination are the two most important factors of any business.”

The tone used by the group — both dismay that the “business” arrangement didn’t work out and a veiled threat to future victims — has become more prominent since TheDarkOverlord first began targeting healthcare organizations in June 2016.

Communication with TheDarkOverlord has shown that there is likely more than one member of the group; however, the language utilized on the group’s accounts suggests that a single member is responsible for the managing the Twitter promotions as it has a common syntax. Generally, healthcare organizations (the group’s primary targets) are under-secured and TheDarkOverlord is taking full advantage.

How TheDarkOverlord Attacks Organizations

TheDarkOverlord favors exploits that allow remote desktop control of a network. The group has also taken data acquired by other actors and exploited the clients found in these breached databases. This shows that TheDarkOverlord is not only proactive with its own targeting, but also opportunistic with regards to the sensitive data of any organization that the group comes across and can and take advantage of — as evidenced by the recent pivot from targeting healthcare organizations to those in the entertainment industry.

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TheDarkOverlord initially appeared to to focus on targeting healthcare organizations, but the group has since targeted a variety of other industry groups.

In regards to the targeting of entertainment brands, TheDarkOverlord discovered what may have been a softer target in the form of the post-production company Larson Studios, which is part of several major entertainment brands’ supply chain. TheDarkOverlord claims that it was able to exfiltrate numerous unreleased (still under production) media to use as leverage, although the group has only leaked two shows thus far.

As TheDarkOverlord moves from entertainment brand to entertainment brand with its extortion efforts, the actor is learning what impacted brands are willing to pay (if anything), and the group is then releasing the media publicly in order to harm the targeted brand financially for not giving into demands. “Orange is the New Black” was leaked a full six weeks before its June 9 premiere data, and “Steve Harvey’s Funderdome” was leaked six days before its June 11 premiere. Targeted brands are likely following the impact of releasing the unaired shows very closely.

Furthermore, TheDarkOverlord has a unique relationship with the media. By garnering media attention, the group builds its reputation and applies pressure to the organizations it wishes to extort. There have been reports that TheDarkOverlord first contacts its exploited entity and demands a ransom. Once the entity refuses, the actor then lists the heathcare database on TheRealDeal Marketplace or releases entertainment media publicly and alerts the media to its presence.

Past activity has shown a slight shift in tactics as TheDarkOverlord has breached an organization and followed that up by sending the victim, along with particular media figures who request it, a sample of the data. By involving security reporters and bloggers, TheDarkOverlord lends credibility to its work while causing panic in consumers who might be associated with the breach. Consumers’ dissatisfaction will also add pressure to the extorted entities to provide ransom payment to the actor for the stolen data.

Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: TheDarkOverlord Returns and Multiple Attacks Circumvent 2FA

TheDarkOverlord was back in the news this week due to leaking data from multiple companies after failed extortion attempts. The most prominent leak involved Netflix, which had the first 10 episodes of the fifth season of its show Orange is the New Black leaked after it refused to cave to the actor’s ransom demands. The group also claims to have unreleased shows from ABC, Fox, National Geographic, and IFC. Media outlets reported that the shows appear to have been stolen from post-production studio Larson Studios in late 2016.

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It’s unclear exactly how much TheDarkOverlord demanded from Netflix to not release the episodes, but the actor once again framed its response to the failed extortion attempt by trying to appeal to future victims, essentially arguing that paying up will cost them a lot less money than having their data released.

“It didn’t have to be this way, Netflix,” the actor wrote in a post on April 29. “We figured a pragmatic business such as yourselves would see and understand the benefits of cooperating with a reasonable and merciful entity like ourselves. … And to the [other networks]: there’s still time to save yourselves. Our offer(s) are still on the table — for now.”

TheDarkOverlord has not yet released episodes allegedly stolen from other networks. However, three healthcare providers had data dumped by the actor on May 4. Aesthetic Dentistry in New York City and OC Gastrocare in California were both hacked last year by TheDarkOverlord, databreaches.net reported, and their dumps from last week contained 3,496 patient records and 34,100 patient records, respectively. The third dump was the biggest, containing more than 142,000 patient records allegedly stolen from Tampa Bay Surgery Center.

That large dump appears to be tied to a previously undisclosed breach, and TheDarkOverlord tweeted that the “clinic didn’t do anything wrong except annoy us.” That annoyance likely stemmed from the fact that the center did not cave to the group’s ransom demands, just like numerous other organizations targeted over the past year.

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Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • Payment card breaches continue: Sabre announced that it is investigating a data breach after discovering “unauthorized access to payment information contained in a subset of hotel reservations processed through our Hospitality Solutions SynXis Central Reservations system.” More than 32,000 properties use Sabre’s SynXis reservations system, which is described as an inventory management Software-as-a-Service application. Sabre told customers that the unauthorized access has been “shut off” and that there are not any additional details to share at this time.
  • Numerous ransomware infections reported: An April 22 ransomware infection at electronic health records vendor Greenway Health disrupted services to 400 client organizations using the vendor’s Intergy cloud-hosted platform, and half of those customers were still waiting to have a full EHR services restored on Monday, May 1. Pekin Community High School’s computer systems were infected with ransomware, and the actor demanded $37,000 in order to restore the encrypted files. Ransomware infected the computer systems of Cambrian College in Ontario and demanded a $54,000 payment. The school’s web portals, grade report, and student learning management systems were disrupted, and final grades and spring semester registration had to be postponed for several days. The law firm Moses Afonso Ryan Ltd was infected with ransomware last year that demanded a $25,000 ransom payment, and after paying a negotiated ransom payment the firm then had to renegotiate an additional payment when the first key purchased to decrypt the documents did not work.
  • Large amounts of data exposed: Around 135 million Aadhaar ID numbers and around 100 million bank account numbers have been leaked from four Indian government portals, according to a report released by The Centre for Internet and Society. The four government portals examined in the report include: National Social Assistance Programme, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Daily Online Payment Reports under NREGA, and Chandranna Bima Scheme. Data belonging to Alliance Direct Lending Corporation was found publicly available online and as a result at least 550,000 customers have had their personal information exposed. According to MacKeeper, the leaked data contained 124 files (with five to ten thousands records each) that contained financing records broken down by dealerships as well as 20 audio recordings of customers agreeing to auto loans or refinancing of auto loans.
  • Other notable cybercrime news: Retina-X Studios announced that in February 2017 a malicious actor was able to break into a server that held database tables for its Net Orbit, PhoneSheriff, and TeenShield products, and the actor then wiped “any data that he was able to force access to.” According to the company, the actor was able to find a vulnerability in a decompiled and decrypted version of a now-discontinued product in order to achieve the unauthorized access. Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Calgary has had an additional 1.7 GB of data dumped, and the hackers behind the dump indicated that the data would be uploaded to torrent sites “soon” and that more data dumps would follow in the coming weeks. The casino initially had data released by hackers in January, and the new dump appears to include more data that was stolen prior to the first leak.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

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Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-05-05_RiskScoresSeveral recent cybercrime events have proven that although two-factor authentication is an effective way to prevent fraudulent transactions, malicious actors are focusing their efforts on ways to defeat that increasingly popular layer of security.

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that customers of O2-Telefonica had funds removed from their bank accounts due to malicious actors exploiting a flaw in  Signalling System No. 7 (SS7) — which is used by telecom companies around the world use to ensure their networks interoperate — in order to intercept the text message authentication codes sent to customers and then use those codes to successfully steal funds from customers’ bank accounts. The attack was carried out from the network of an unnamed “foreign provider,” and one expert told the German paper that  insider access could be bought for as little as €1000 in order to carry out similar attacks.

The flaw in SS7 has been known since 2014, and in 2015 60 Minutes aired a segment in which researchers demonstrated how U.S. Representative Ted Lieu’s phone messages and conversations could be intercepted. Lieu said the recent theft is yet another example of the insecurity of text-based, two factor authentication:

“Everyone’s accounts protected by text-based two-factor authentication, such as bank accounts, are potentially at risk until the FCC and telecom industry fix the devastating SS7 security flaw. Both the FCC and telecom industry have been aware that hackers can acquire our text messages and phone conversations just knowing our cell phone number. It is unacceptable the FCC and telecom industry have not acted sooner to protect our privacy and financial security. I urge the Republican-controlled Congress to hold immediate hearings on this issue.”

In addition, the UK’s National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre is warning that malicious actors are continuing to use “SIM splitting” attacks to take control of victims’ phone numbers, authenticate transactions, and steal money from bank accounts. Like the SS7-based attacks, malicious actors first gain access to the victim’s bank accounts via phishing, malware, or cybercriminal markets — but in this case the actors then successfully report their phone lost or stolen in order to active the SIM card on a new phone and intercept communications. The fraudsters then transfer money from the victim’s account to a parallel business account they opened, and when the bank calls or texts to verify the transactions, they are in control of the victim’s phone number and can confirm the fraudulent transactions. In both cases, malicious actors have proven that they can successfully circumvent two-factor authentication with a little extra legwork.

Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: Ashley Madison Blackmail Returns, Facebook and Google Victims of Fraud

An old data breach came back to life this week as Ashley Madison users who had their data compromised back in July 2015 are once again being blackmailed — this time by an extortion group threatening to launch a public website and contact people in victims’ social media networks. The website will allegedly be launched on Monday, at which point it will be clear if the threat is just a ploy to extort victims who are low-hanging fruit or if the group will actually carry out their attempt at public shaming.

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“On May 1 2017 we are launching our new site — Cheaters Gallery – exposing those who cheat and destroy families,” a group using a Ukrainian top level domain recently wrote in an email to some Ashley Madison users. “We will launch the site with a big email to all the friends and family of cheaters taken from Facebook, LinkedIn and other social sites. This will include you if do not pay to opting out.”

Robin Harris wrote on ZDNet that the email he received quoted his personal Ashley Madison profile and that the blackmail price for “opting out” of the Cheaters Gallery website was around $500. Of course, paying that blackmail won’t accomplish much unless the victims are willing to keep paying ransoms in an endless game of extortion whack-a-mole. The breached Ashley Madison data has been circulating for 20 months now — ever since the account details of around 32 million users were published on the dark web — and numerous other actors have attempted to extort the victims in the past via extortion emails and letters sent to victims and their spouses. The repeated blackmail campaigns indicate that either victims are paying up and the campaigns are profitable or that the actors behind them at least believed they would be worth the investment.

Seeing another round of Ashley Madison blackmail threats nearly two years after the breach is a reminder that once data is exposed, it remains exposed forever. As SurfWatch Labs noted in a report last year, the pool of compromised data never empties; it only grows. That means that malicious actors can use, reuse, build upon, and find new ways to monetize that expanding pool of data now and in the future.

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Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • More payment card breaches: Chain restaurant Chipotle said that it is investigating a possible point-of-sale breach after detecting “unauthorized activity on the network that supports payment processing for purchases made in our restaurants.” The investigation is focusing transactions that occurred at locations from March 24, 2017 through April 18, 2017. Trading card dealer Blowout Cards announced a data breach due to “an exploit in the form of a modified payment .php file” that allowed the intruders to skim payment card information as customers checked out via its website. As a result, those who used credit and debit cards to check out via the site’s shopping cart between January 2017 and April 20, 2017, had their information compromised.
  • Espionage groups behind South Korea, Israel attacks: Iran’s OilRig hacking group is behind a series of targeted attacks against 250 individuals in government agencies, high-tech companies, medical organizations, and educational institutions such as the renowned Ben-Gurion University. The attacks took place between April 19 and 24 and employed the just-patched Microsoft CVE-2017-0199 remote code execution vulnerability in the Windows Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) application programming interface. Two cyber-espionage groups linked to China have been observed launching a variety of attacks against South Korea’s government, military, defense companies, and a big conglomerate involved in deploying Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, a U.S. missile-defense system designed to protect South Korea from a North Korean missile threat.
  • FIN7 campaign uses social engineering: The FIN7 group (also known as Carbanak) is targeting large restaurant chains, hospitality, and financial service organizations with spear phishing messages centered around complaints, catering orders, or resumes. The group has also been observed calling stores at targeted organizations to ensure they received the email and attempting to walk them through the infection process, as it has done in previous campaigns.  
  • Phishing leads to fraud, data breaches: Fraudsters were able to convince more than 500 University of California students to hand over their health information, and that information was used to steal almost $12 million from the university by writing fake medical prescriptions in the students’ names. The Iowa Veterans Home is notifying 2,969 people that their medical and financial information may have been compromised after three IVH employees fell for phishing emails that compromised their email account credentials.
  • Other notable cybercrime events: A vulnerability in a popular third-party library used by HipChat.com led to a data breach. The email addresses and unique IMEI numbers from Ciphr phone users have been dumped online, and Ciphr claims that the leak was carried out by a rival secure phone company. A hacker claims to have compromised the forums of R2 games. Concordia University said that approximately 9,000 students may have been affected by unauthorized access to its online course systems. The information of 8,000 Home Depot customers who had lodged complaints with its MyInstall program was found exposed online. Ransomware infected some City of Newark computers. WikiLeaks has published the user guide for the “Weeping Angel” tool allegedly developed by the CIA.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

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Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-04-28_RiskScoresFacebook and Google confirmed this week that they were the victims of the $100 million phishing scheme announced by the Department of Justice of last month.

The scheme was carried out by Evaldas Rimasauskas, a Lithuanian man who allegedly impersonated the large Taiwan-based manufacturer Quanta Computer in order to dupe the companies into making a series of fraudulent payments. According to the indictment, Rimasauskas, registered and incorporated a company in Latvia with the same name as Quanta Computer and then forged email addresses, invoices, and corporate stamps in order to convince the accounting departments at the two tech companies to make transfers worth tens of millions of dollars over a two year span, stealing $100 million in total.

Facebook and Google both told Fortune that they have since recovered the bulk of the funds. 

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a DOJ press release that “this case should serve as a wake-up call to all companies – even the most sophisticated – that they too can be victims of phishing attacks by cyber criminals.”

That same concern was echoed in a report from the Association for Financial Professionals published in early April. According to the report, 74 percent of finance professionals reported that their organizations were victims of business email compromise (BEC) scams in 2016, a 10-percentage point increase from the previous year.

Likewise, in December 2016 the FBI warned of a dramatic increase in BEC scams, which attempt to assume the identity of a person of authority within the company or — in the case of the Facebook and Google thefts — a trusted vendor before asking to initiate a fraudulent wire transfer.

Ransomware Disrupting Business Operations and Demanding Higher Payouts

Malicious actors are continually fine-tuning their tactics, and one of the best examples of this is the evolution of ransomware. Ransomware has largely been an opportunistic, rather than a targeted, form of cybercrime with the goal of infecting as many users as possible. That model has worked so effectively that extortion is now ubiquitous when it comes to cybercrime — so much so that even fake attacks are proving to be successful.

As I wrote earlier this month, the surge of extortion attacks impacting organizations has led to a number of fake extortion threats, including empty ransomware demands where actors contact organizations, lie about the organization’s data being encrypted, and ask for money to remove the non-existent threat. Cybercriminals like to follow the path of least resistance, and an attack doesn’t get much easier than simply pretending to have done something malicious.

However, attacks over the past year have proven that infecting organizations with ransomware can result in much higher payouts. The more disruptive the attack, the more money some organizations are willing to pay to make the problem go away. As a result, ransomware actors are shifting their targets towards more disruptive attacks, which we examine in our latest report, Ransomware Actors Shift Gears: New Wave of Ransomware Attacks Aims to Lock Business Services, Not Just Data.

A quick look at some of the ransomware mentioned in SurfWatch Labs new report.

It was just 13 months ago that Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center made national attention by paying $17,000 to decrypt its files after a ransomware attack. The incident was novel at the time, but those types of stories have since become commonplace.

For example:

  • On November 25, 2016, an HDDCryptor infection at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency led to the temporary shutdown of ticketing machines and free rides for many passengers, costing an estimated $50,000 in lost fares.
  • On January 19, 2017, a ransomware infection of the St. Louis Public Library computer system temporarily halted checkouts across all 17 locations and led to a several-day outage of the library’s reservable computers. 
  • On January 31, 2017, a ransomware infection in Licking County, Ohio, led to the IT department shutting down more than a thousand computers and left a variety of departments – including the 911 call center – unable to use computers and perform services as normal for several days.
  • In February 2017 at the RSA Conference,  researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology presented a proof-of-concept ransomware that targets the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) used in industrial control systems (ICS).

As the Georgia Institute of Technology researchers noted: “ICS networks usually have little valuable data, but instead place the highest value on downtime, equipment health, and safety to personnel. Therefore, ransomware authors can threaten all three to raise the value side of the tradeoff equation to make ICS ransomware profitable.”

In short, if actors understand what is most valuable to an organization and can find a way to effectively disrupt those goals, they can find success in yet-to-be targeted industries. It may require more legwork, but the higher potential payouts may make it worthwhile for some actors to engage in less widespread but potentially much more profitable attacks.

Government agencies, consumer services, educational institutions, healthcare organizations, and more have all had services disrupted by ransomware over the past six months.

In addition, just last week, researchers discovered a new ransomware family, dubbed “RanRan,” that doesn’t even ask for money. Instead, the ransomware attempts to force victims “to create a public sub-domain with a name that would appear to advocate and incite violence against a Middle Eastern political leader.” The malware is described by the researchers as “fairly rudimentary” and there are a number of mistakes in the encryption process, but it serves as an example of how malicious actors that are not financially motivated can nevertheless leverage ransomware to achieve their goals.

Organizations need to take action to protect themselves against ransomware actors that are trying to find more effective ways to disrupt business operations and demand even higher ransom payouts. For more information on these evolving ransomware attacks, download SurfWatch Labs’ free report: Ransomware Actors Shift Gears: New Wave of Ransomware Attacks Aims to Lock Business Services, Not Just Data.

Fake Extortion Demands and Empty Threats on the Rise

I’ve previously written about the rise of extortion as an emerging trend for 2017, but if you didn’t want to take my word for it, you should have listened to the numerous warnings shared at this year’s RSA 2017. Cyber-extortion has become one of the primary cybersecurity-related issues facing organizations — and it appears to be here to stay.

My analyst team has researched cyber extortion and have found that malicious actors are not only engaging in these threat tactics, but they’re using the surging popularity of extortion and ransomware to target organizations with a variety of fake extortion demands and empty threats. We cover this topic in depth in our latest report, The Extortion Epidemic: Fake Threats on the Rise as Ransoms and Blackmail Gain Popularity.

In the graphic below I’ve noted some popular extortion threats, how actors carry out the threats and the impending results. Essentially they’re following the path of least resistance and most profit.

The Many Faces of Extortion: Popular Threats
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The number of organizations publicly associated with ransom and extortion continues to grow, and 2017 is on pace to see the highest number yet, based on data from the first two months of the year.

The gist of it all is that organizations have real fear around these threats and trust that bad actors have the ability to carry out these threats. Putting trust in bad guys is a bad idea!

The fake ransoms are successful in large part because their real counterparts have impacted so many organizations. We’re already on pace to have more organizations publicly tied to ransoms and extortion in 2017 than any other year.

FBI officials have estimated the single subset of extortion known as ransomware to be a billion-dollar-a-year business, and fake ransomware threats have sprung up in the wake of that growth. A November 2016 survey of large UK businesses found that more than 40 percent had been contacted by cybercriminals claiming a fake ransomware infection. Surprisingly, two-thirds of those contacted reportedly paid the “bluff” ransom.

DDoS extortion threats are similarly low-effort cybercriminal campaigns, requiring only the sending of a threatening email. Earlier this month, Reuters reported that extortionists using the name “Armada Collective” had threatened Taiwanese brokerages with DDoS threats. Several of the brokerages experienced legitimate attacks following the threats; however, 2016 saw several campaigns leveraging the Armada Collective name where the threats were completely empty. One campaign generated over $100,000 in payments despite researchers not finding a single incident where a DDoS attack was actually made.

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A portion of the extortion email sent to the owner of Alpha Bookkeeping Services in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in September 2016.

Extortion is also frequently tied to data breaches — both real and fake — as it is an another simple and direct avenue for cybercriminals to monetize stolen data. In January 2017 the E-Sports Entertainment Association (ESEA) was breached and the actor demanded a ransom payment of $100,000 to not release or sell the information on 1.5 million players.

ESEA said in its breach announcement that it did not pay the ransom because “paying any amount of money would not have provided any guarantees to our users as to what would happen with their stolen data.”

That is what reportedly happened to many of the victims who paid ransoms to have their hijacked MongoDB and other databases restored: they found themselves out both the data and the ransom payment. As noted in our report, it’s hard to have faith in cybercriminals, and organizations who do pay ransoms should be aware that in many cases those actors may not follow through after receiving extortion payments.

For more information on extortion threats and how to keep your organization safe, download the free report: The Extortion Epidemic: Fake Threats on the Rise as Ransoms and Blackmail Gain Popularity.

Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: Ransomware and Insecure Databases Dominate Headlines

Ransomware and extortion continue to dominate the headlines in 2017. The past week saw several widely reported incidents involving service outages and lost data due to infections, as well as warnings that malicious actors are attempting to extort organizations via the threat of DDoS attacks.

2017-02-04_ITT.pngThe Austrian hotel Romantik Seehotel Jägerwirt paid approximately $1600 in ransom after ransomware locked the hotel out of its computer systems and the hotel was unable to issue new key cards to arriving guests. The hotel’s reservation system was down for 24 hours; however, the initial media reports that customers were locked in their rooms due to the incident were false, the owner told Motherboard. The hotel’s managing director told The Verge that the issue was that the hotel could not program keycards for the guests checking in on the same day due to the system being down. The Local reported that it was the fourth time hotel had been hit by such an attack, prompting the company to go public in order to warn others about these types of cybercrime incidents.

Several other ransomware-related service outages were announced this week. Licking County, Ohio, shut down more than a thousand computers due to a ransomware infection. A variety of departments, such as the 911 call center, were unable to use computers and had to switch over to other forms of communication, and services such as court house phones and the issuing of court documents were made unavailable, 10TV reported. In addition, The Washington Post reported that ransomware left 123 of the 187 Washington D.C. police surveillance cameras, which monitor public spaces across the city, unable to record from January 12 to January 15. The ransom demand was not paid as the police simply removed all software and restarted the system at each site.

Finally, Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission warned that brokers across the city are being targeted with DDoS attacks and extortion demands from cybercriminals, and it is urging financial institutions to implement and review security measures.

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Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • Warning issued following two dozen W-2 breach announcements: The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry issued an urgent alert on Thursday warning employers that W-2 phishing scams are spreading into sectors beyond the corporate world, including school districts, tribal organizations and nonprofits. In addition, the scammers are following up the request with a more traditional fraudulent wire transfer request, resulting in some organizations losing both employees’ W-2s and thousands of dollars due to wire transfers. SurfWatch Labs has identified at least 24 organizations publicly tied to W-2 data breaches over the past two weeks. The emails are a form of the popular Business Email Compromise scam, such as the one against Sedgwick County that led to $566,000 being fraudulently transferred.
  • Shamoon malware strikes again: Saudi Arabia’s telecom authority is warning organizations to be on the lookout for Shamoon 2 after recent attacks led to at least three government agencies and four private sector companies going offline for 48 hours. Among those targeted were multiple petrochemical and IT services companies, which reportedly shut down their networks in an attempt to protect themselves. It appears the goal of the attack was disruption, not data exfiltration, similar to previous Shamoon attacks; however, the incident was less destructive than similar attacks in November as backups were more commonplace due that previous incident.
  • Czech foreign ministry targeted with DNC-style hack: A foreign government hacked the email system of the Czech foreign ministry and accessed the email system used by employees to communicate with people outside the ministry in an attack similar to the breach of the Democratic National Committee, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said. A spokesperson for the Czech minister said the scale of the attack is still being assessed but noted that other ministries “might be in a little bit of a problem.” Officials indirectly accused Russia of carrying out the attacks.
  • Printing company exposes 400 GB of data: A PIP Printing and Marketing Services franchise branch located in California exposed 400 gigabytes of sensitive information due to a publicly available backup server without any password protection. The exposed data includes 50 GB of scanned documents relating to court cases, medical records, well-known companies and celebrities, as well as an archive of correspondence with attached documents, some of which have credit card numbers and billing details in plain text.
  • Other cybercrime announcements: The Xbox360 ISO and PSP ISO forums, which provides gamers with links to free and often-illegal game downloads, were hacked in September 2015 and the details of 2.5 million accounts were leaked. Security firms Dr. Web and Emsisoft were targeted by DDoS attacks after publishing research related to a botnet of Linux devices and an update for the Merry Christmas ransomware (MRCR) decryptor tool. The hacking group OurMine hacked into a variety of social media accounts belonging to the WWE and CNN. Toys “R” Us is forcing reward members to reset account passwords after the vendor responsible for managing the program notified the company of attempts to access customer accounts and steal coupons using credentials reused from other data breaches.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

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Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-02-04_riskThe past week once again saw numerous organizations exposing data due to insecure public databases, and several of those databases reportedly contained data that was no longer in use.

Security researcher Chris Vickery discovered unsecured database backup files from Indycar, which exposed the personal information of more than 200,000 users as well as Indycar employee login credentials. The user data was related to a now-retired Indycar bulletin board and contained sensitive information such as names, usernames, email and physical addresses, dates of birth, password hashes and security questions and answers.

As Vickery noted, holding that user data was unnecessary since the board was no longer in use:

Why do companies hold on to password hashes long after the associated site has been shuttered? That’s nothing but liability. They are putting customers at risk for no gain. There was absolutely nothing for Indycar to gain by holding on to these password hashes. And now they are faced with negative PR as word of the situation gets out to racing fans.

In addition, Polish game development studio CD Projekt RED, which developed the popular Witcher franchise, announced that a now-obsolete forum database was hacked and more than 1.8 million user credentials were stolen in March 2016.

“It’s the old database we used to run the forum before we migrated to the login system powered by our sister company — GOG.com,” the company wrote in a post on its forums. “At the time of the event, the database was not in active use, as forum members had been asked to create better-secured GOG.com accounts almost a year earlier.”

The incidents are reminders that when it comes to cybersecurity, less data tends to equals less risk. This is particularly true for data that is no longer required to be held and may therefore receive less scrutiny than data that is being actively used. In short, if your organization is holding on to unnecessary data, it is opening itself up to unnecessary risk.