Ransomware operators and where to find them: Kaspersky sheds light on the ransomware ecosystem
May 2021 by Kaspersky
Ransomware is on the tip of everyone’s tongue every time businesses discuss cyberthreats they are likely to face in 2021. Attackers have built their brands and are bold in their advances like never before, with the news about organisations being hit with ransomware consistently on newspaper front pages. But by placing themselves under the spotlight, such groups hide the actual complexity of the ransomware ecosystem. To help organisations understand how the ransomware ecosystem operates and how to fight it, the latest report by Kaspersky researchers dug into darknet forums, took a deep look at REvil and Babuk gangs and beyond and debunked some of the myths about ransomware. And when you dig into this underworld, you have to expect that it has many faces.
Like any industry, the ransomware ecosystem comprises of many players that take on various roles. Contrary to the belief that ransomware gang are actually gangs – tight, have been through it all together, Godfather-style groups, the reality is more akin to the world of Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen’, with a significant number of different actors – developers, botmasters, access sellers, ransomware operators – involved in most attacks, supplying services to each other through dark web marketplaces.
These actors meet on specialised darknet forums where one can find regularly updated ads offering services and partnerships. Prominent big-game players that operate on their own do not frequent such sites, however, well-known groups such as REvil that have increasingly targeted organisations in the past few quarters, publicise their offers and news on a regular basis using affiliate programs. This type of involvement presumes a partnership between the ransomware group operator and the affiliate with the ransomware operator taking a profit share ranging from 20-40%, while the remaining 60-80% stays with the affiliate.
REvil announces a new capability to organise calls to the media and target’s partners to assert additional pressure on paying the ransom
Examples of offers listing payment conditions in the partner programs Selection of such partners is a finely-tuned process with ground rules set by the ransomware operators from the start – including geographical restrictions and even political views. At the same time, ransomware victims are selected opportunistically.
As the people who infect organisations and the ones who actually operate ransomware are different groups, only formed by the desire to profit, the organisations infected most are often low hanging fruit – essentially, the ones that the attackers were able to gain easier access to. It could be both actors that work within the affiliate programs and independent operators that later sell access – in an auction form or as a fix, starting as low as 50 USD. These attackers, more often than not, are botnet owners who work on massive and wide-reaching campaigns and sell access to the victim machines in bulk, and access sellers on the lookout for publicly disclosed vulnerabilities in internet facing software, such as VPN appliances or email gateways, which they can use to infiltrate organisations.
Examples of offers listing payment conditions in the partner programs
Ransomware forums are home to other types of offers too. Some ransomware operators sell malware samples and ransomware builders for anything from 300 to 4,000 USD, others offer Ransomware-as-a-Service – the sale of ransomware with continued support from its developers, which can range from 120 USD per month to 1,900 USD per year packages.
“In the past two years, we have seen how cybercriminals have become bolder in using ransomware. Organisations targeted by such attacks are not limited to corporations and governmental organisations – ransomware operators are ready to hit essentially any business regardless of size. It is clear that the ransomware industry per se is a complex one involving many different actors with various roles. To fight them, we need to educate ourselves on how they work and fight them as one. Anti-Ransomware Day is a good opportunity to highlight this need and remind the public of how important it is to adopt effective security practices. INTERPOL’s Global Cybercrime Programme, together with our partners, is determined to reduce the global impact of ransomware and protect communities from harm caused by this growing threat,” comments Craig Jones, Director or Cybercrime, INTERPOL.
“The ransomware ecosystem is a complex one with many interests at stake. It is a fluid market with many players, some quite opportunistic, some – very professional and advanced. They do not pick specific targets, they may go after any organisation – an enterprise or a small business, as long as they can gain access to them. Moreover, their business is flourishing, it is not going away anytime soon,” comments Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team. “The good news is that even rather simple security measures can drive the attackers away from organisations, so standard practices such as regular software updates and isolated backups do help and there is much more that organisations can do to secure themselves’.
"Effective actions against the ransomware ecosystem can only be decided once its underpinnings are truly understood. With this report, we hope to shine a light on the way ransomware attacks are truly organised, so that the community can set up adequate countermeasures,” adds Ivan Kwiatkowski, senior security researcher at Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team.
On May 12, which is Anti-Ransomware Day, Kaspersky encourages organisations to follow these best practices that help you safeguard your organisation against ransomware:
• Always keep software updated on all the devices you use, to prevent attackers from infiltrating your network by exploiting vulnerabilities.
• Focus your defense strategy on detecting lateral movements and data exfiltration to the internet. Pay special attention to the outgoing traffic to detect cybercriminals’ connections. Set up offline backups that intruders cannot tamper with. Make sure you can quickly access them in an emergency when needed.
• Enable ransomware protection for all endpoints. There is a free Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware Tool for Business that shields computers and servers from ransomware and other types of malware, prevent exploits and is compatible with already installed security solutions.
• Install anti-APT and EDR solutions, enabling capabilities for advanced threat discovery and detection, investigation and timely remediation of incidents. Provide your SOC team with access to the latest threat intelligence and regularly upskill them with professional training. All of the above is available within Kaspersky Expert Security framework.