Ransomware deploys virtual machines to hide itself from antivirus software

The operators of the RagnarLocker ransomware are installing the VirtualBox app and running virtual machines on computers they infect in order to run their ransomware in a “safe” environment, outside the reach of local antivirus software.

RagnarLocker
Background: https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2020/05/21/ragnar-locker-ransomware-deploys-virtual-machine-to-dodge-security/

This latest trick has been spotted and detailed today by UK cyber-security firm Sophos and shows the creativity and great lengths some ransomware gangs will go to avoid detection while attacking a victim.

WHAT’S RAGNARLOCKER?

Avoiding detection is crucial because RagnarLocker is not your typical ransomware gang. They’re a group that carefully selects targets, avoiding home consumers, and goes after corporate networks and government organizations only.

Sophos says the group has targeted victims in the past by abusing internet-exposed RDP endpoints and has compromised MSP (managed service provider) tools to breach companies and gain access to their internal networks.

On these networks, the RagnarLocker group deploys a version of their ransomware — customized per each victim — and then demands an astronomical decryption fee in the tune of tens and hundreds of thousands of US dollars.

Because each of these carefully planned intrusions represents a chance to earn large amounts of money, the RagnarLocker group has put a primer on stealth and has recently come up with a novel trick to avoid detection by antivirus software.

THE VIRTUAL MACHINE TRICK

The “trick” is actually pretty simple and clever when you think of it.

Instead of running the ransomware directly on the computer they want to encrypt, the RagnarLocker gang downloads and installs Oracle VirtualBox, a type of software that lets you run virtual machines.

The group then configures the virtual machine to give it full access to all local and shared drives, allowing the virtual machine to interact with files stored outside its own storage.

The next step is to boot up the virtual machine, running a stripped-down version of the Windows XP SP3 operating system, called MicroXP v0.82.

The final phase is to load the ransomware inside the virtual machine (VM) and run it. Because the ransomware runs inside the VM, the antivirus software won’t be able to detect the ransomware’s malicious process.

From the antivirus software’s point of view, files on the local system and shared drives will suddenly be replaced with their encrypted versions, and all the file modifications appear to come from a legitimate process — namely the VirtualBox app.

Mark Loman, director of engineering and threat mitigation at Sophos told ZDNet today that this is the first time he’s seen a ransomware gang abuse virtual machines during an attack.

“In the last few months, we’ve seen ransomware evolve in several ways. But, the Ragnar Locker adversaries are taking ransomware to a new level and thinking outside of the box,” he added.

An overview of the entire RagnarLocker ransomware, including its VM trick, is available in Sophos’ recent report here:

https://news.sophos.com/en-us/2020/05/21/ragnar-locker-ransomware-deploys-virtual-machine-to-dodge-security/

Source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/ransomware-deploys-virtual-machines-to-hide-itself-from-antivirus-software/

By: By Catalin Cimpanu for Zero Day

Coinhive Now Affecting 23% of the World’s Organizations

Crypto-mining malware has continued to grow globally, with 23% of organizations worldwide affected by the Coinhive variant during January.

That’s according to Check Point’s Global Threat Impact Index, which shows three different variants of crypto-mining code in its top 10 most-prevalent rankings. In addition to Coinhive impacting more than one in five organizations, JSEcoin (a JavaScript miner that can be embedded in websites) was in fifth place and Cryptoloot (which targets PCs) was in ninth.

Coinhive, January’s No. 1 most-prevalent malware, performs online mining of Monero cryptocurrency when a user visits a web page. Implanted JavaScript uses the computational resources of the end user’s machines to mine coins, impacting system performance. While it’s offered as a legitimate service for webmasters looking for a monetization alternative to advertising, criminals often embed it into websites without the site knowing, and unscrupulous websites use it without letting site visitors know.

“Over the past three months crypto-mining malware has steadily become an increasing threat to organizations, as criminals have found it to be a lucrative revenue stream,” said Maya Horowitz, threat intelligence group manager at Check Point. “It is particularly challenging to protect against, as it is often hidden in websites, enabling hackers to use unsuspecting victims to tap into the huge CPU resource that many enterprises have available. As such, it is critical that organizations have the solutions in place that protect against these stealthy cyber-attacks.”

In addition to crypto-miners, Check Point researchers also discovered that 21% of organizations have still failed to deal with machines infected with the malware. Fireball, which came in at No. 2 in the rankings, manipulates victims’ browsers and turns their default search engines and homepages into fake search engines, which simply redirect the queries to either yahoo.com or google.com to generate ad revenue. It also can be used as a full-functioning malware downloader capable of executing any code on victims’ machines. It was first discovered in May 2017 and severely impacted organizations during summer of 2017.

The Rig Exploit Kit came in third for January, impacting 17% of organizations. Rig delivers exploits for Flash, Java, Silverlight and Internet Explorer.

On the mobile front, Lokibot, an Android banking Trojan, was the most popular malware used to attack organizations’ mobile estates. The code steals information, but it can also turn into a ransomware that locks the phone.

Lokibot was followed by the Triada and Hiddad mobile malwares in January. Triada is a modular backdoor for Android, which grants superuser privileges to downloaded malware. Hiddad is also an Android malware, focused on trojanizing legitimate apps then releasing them to a third-party store.

Source: https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/coinhive-cryptominer-now-affecting/

By:  Tara Seals US/North America News Reporter, Infosecurity Magazine

U.S. warns public about attacks on energy, industrial firms

(Reuters) – The U.S government issued a rare public warning that sophisticated hackers are targeting energy and industrial firms, the latest sign that cyber attacks present an increasing threat to the power industry and other public infrastructure.

The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation warned in a report distributed by email late on Friday that the nuclear, energy, aviation, water and critical manufacturing industries have been targeted along with government entities in attacks dating back to at least May.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security emblem is pictured at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC)

The agencies warned that hackers had succeeded in compromising some targeted networks, but did not identify specific victims or describe any cases of sabotage.

The objective of the attackers is to compromise organizational networks with malicious emails and tainted websites to obtain credentials for accessing computer networks of their targets, the report said.

U.S. authorities have been monitoring the activity for months, which they initially detailed in a confidential June report first reported by Reuters. That document, which was privately distributed to firms at risk of attacks, described a narrower set of activity focusing on the nuclear, energy and critical manufacturing sectors.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell declined to elaborate on the information in the report or say what prompted the government to go public with the information at this time.

“The technical alert provides recommendations to prevent and mitigate malicious cyber activity targeting multiple sectors and reiterated our commitment to remain vigilant for new threats,” he said.

The FBI declined to comment on the report, which security researchers said described an escalation in targeting of infrastructure in Europe and the United States that had been described in recent reports from private firms, including Symantec Corp.

“This is very aggressive activity,” said Robert Lee, an expert in securing industrial networks.

Lee, chief executive of cyber-security firm Dragos, said the report appears to describe hackers working in the interests of the Russian government, though he declined to elaborate. Dragos is also monitoring other groups targeting infrastructure that appear to be aligned with China, Iran, North Korea, he said.

    The hacking described in the government report is unlikely to result in dramatic attacks in the near term, Lee said, but he added that it is still troubling: “We don’t want our adversaries learning enough to be able to do things that are disruptive later.”

The report said that hackers have succeeded in infiltrating some targets, including at least one energy generator, and conducting reconnaissance on their networks. It was accompanied by six technical documents describing malware used in the attacks.

Homeland Security “has confidence that this campaign is still ongoing and threat actors are actively pursuing their objectives over a long-term campaign,” the report said.

The report said the attacker was the same as one described by Symantec in a September report that warned advanced hackers had penetrated the systems controlling operations of some U.S. and European energy companies.

Symantec researcher Vikram Thakur said in an email that much of the contents of Friday’s report were previously known within the security community.

Cyber-security firm CrowdStrike said the technical indicators described in the report suggested the attacks were the work of a hacking group it calls Berserk Bear, which is affiliated with the Russian Federation and has targeted the energy, financial and transportation industries.

“We have not observed any destructive action by this actor,” CrowdStrike Vice President Adam Meyers said in an email.

By: Jim Finkle in Toronto; Additional reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston; Editing by Nick Zieminski and James Dalgleish

Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cyber-energy/u-s-warns-public-about-attacks-on-energy-industrial-firms-idUSKBN1CQ0IN