Cryptowall 3 ransomware is the latest incarnation of the Trojan that first appeared in the latter half of 2014. This variant was discovered earlier this year and it has been used to extort millions out of individuals and businesses.
The threat from ransomware is growing
Ransomware infections have been reported much more frequently in recent months. A fortune has already been spent undoing the damage caused. Unfortunately, since the malware is evolving, it can be difficult to block.
Cryptowall 3 ransomware is very similar to previous incarnations and operates in a very similar fashion. The problem is that the algorithm it uses to obfuscate the dropper, which is applied three times, differs from Cryptowall 2. This makes it harder to identify.
Cryptowall 3 ransomware employs multiple dropper files and contains a number of different exploits. Once initiated, code is injected into a new explorer.exe process which installs the malware while disabling system protections. Malicious code is then hidden in a new SVChost.exe process.
The malware collects a considerable amount of data from the host computer, obtains an external IP address, establishes a connection, and registers the machine with the hacker’s command and control center. A POST request is made and the main Cryptowall 3 thread is initiated.
Cryptowall 3 ransomware subsequently encrypts certain file types on mounted network drives and local drives using public-key cryptography. The key to unlock the encryption is only stored on the hacker’s server. The victim is then advised to pay a ransom to have the infection removed and files unlocked. Failure to respond will see files locked forever or permanently deleted.
Cryptowall 3 ransomware is spread via email spam
Cryptowall 3 ransomware is primarily, but not exclusively, spread via spam email. The email contains a zip file attachment which houses an executable file. If the executable file is run, it installs the malware on the host computer. Videos, text files, and images files are then encrypted with its RSA2048 algorithm. Users often have files created on the desktop instructing them how to unencrypt their computer. Once infected, users are given approximately 7 days to pay the ransom, which is commonly $500 in the form of Bitcoins (2.17).
There is no guarantee that payment will result in the encryption being removed, although oftentimes it is. Payment certainly does not mean all traces of the malware will be removed from the infected machine. Users are often allowed to decrypt certain files to prove that the criminals behind the campaign can actually make good on their promise.
Victims are usually given little alternative but to give into the hacker’s demands, unless they want to lose all the files that have been encrypted.
Millions have been obtained from Cryptowall 3 ransomware infections
Cryptowall 3 ransomware has spread rapidly and the malware has already claimed tens of thousands of victims. The malware was only discovered in January 2015, yet already the criminals behind the infections have managed to obtain an estimated $325 million in ransoms according to Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA) figures. The ransoms have been tracked via Bitcoin payments, although the system used to assess criminals’ profits is somewhat unreliable. The figure of $325 million has been confirmed, but the total profits from Cryptowall 3 ransomware infections could well be double that total.
Cryptowall 3 ransomware infections usually start with a phishing campaign. The phishing campaigns usually contain an attachment with an innocent looking name, such as “invoice” or “fax”.
Drive-by attacks have been known to install the malware. These take advantage of security vulnerabilities in browser plugins. Exploit kits such as Angler are also used.
Fortunately, it is possible to train employees to be more cautious and not to open file attachments sent from unknown individuals. However, the emails may appear to have been sent by a friend, relative, or colleague inside their company.
Training should be provided to employees and company-wide warnings issued. However, the best defense is to prevent the ransomware from being delivered to inboxes. If SpamTitan Anti-Spam solutions are implemented, Cryptowall 3 ransomware email spam will be blocked and quarantined. End users will then be prevented from accidentally installing the malware.
‘Tis the season to be jolly, but it is also the season for holiday email spam. Malware infections increase during holiday periods and this year is unlikely to be any different. Holiday email spam is coming, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been naughty or nice. If you do not take precautions, you are likely to receive a gift of malware this Christmastime.
Holiday email scams are sent in the billions at this time of year because of one simple fact: They work. People let their hair down over Christmas and New Year, but they also let their guard down. That gives online criminals an opportunity to get malware installed, fool consumers with phishing campaigns, and generally cause some festive mayhem.
Holiday email spam is now being sent: Avoid the Christmas rush and get your malware now!
Christmas week may see many people infected with malware, but the run up to Christmas can be even worse. As soon as the first decorations go up in the shops, holiday email spam starts to be sent. Email is commonly used to send malware.
Nasty malicious programs are masked as Christmas screensavers, phishing campaigns will appear as festive quizzes, and you can expect an African prince to need your assistance with a huge bank transfer. Don’t be surprised to find out that you have won a Sweepstake in a country you have never visited or that one of your online accounts will be hacked requiring you to receive technical support.
These and many more scams will be delivered in a wave of holiday email spam and, if you let your guard down, you may inadvertently fall for one of these often cleverly devised scams. Some of the latest phishing scams are incredibly convincing, and you may not even realize you have fallen for the scam and have become a victim.
Employers Beware: End users are especially gullible at this time of year
Everyone must be wary at this time of year due to the huge increase in spam email campaigns. Employers especially must take care as employees can be particularly gullible at this time of year. Their minds are on other things, and they are not as diligent and security conscious as they may usually be.
To make matters worse, each year the scammers get better and holiday email spam becomes more believable. If one of your employees falls for holiday email spam attack, it may not only be their own bank account that gets emptied. Phishing campaigns are devised to get employees to reveal critical business data or login credentials. The FBI has warned that business email is being targeted. In the past two years over 7,000 U.S. firms have been targeted and have suffered from criminal attacks. Those attacks initially target employees, and the festive season is an ideal time for a business email compromise (BEC) attack to take place.
Common Holiday Email Spam Campaigns in 2015
Send an email bulletin to your employees highlighting the risk that holiday email spam poses, and warn them that they may shortly start receiving phishing emails and other spam campaigns. They are likely to have forgotten how risky the festive season can be.
Business Email Compromise (BEC) Attacks
The FBI has already released a warning this year to organizations that perform wire transfers on a regular basis and/or work with foreign suppliers. They are being targeted by cybercriminals using sophisticated scams that start with the compromising of a business email account. Social engineering and phishing tactics are used to get employees to reveal their login credentials. Once access to bank accounts has been obtained by criminals, fraudulent transfers are made. Holiday email spam campaigns are expected to be sent targeting organizations and specific employees within those organizations. During the holiday period employees must be told to be ultra-cautious.
Holiday e-card scams
Holiday e-card scams are common at Christmastime. Criminals take advantage of the growing popularity of e-cards and send out spam emails in the millions telling the recipient to click a link to download their e-card. However, those links are sent to convince users to download malware to their computers. Any email containing a file attachment claiming to be an e-card is likely to be fake. The attachment may be malware.
Christmas and other holiday-themed screensavers are commonly downloaded by employees. These screensavers can be fun and festive, but may actually be malicious. Employers should consider implementing a ban on the downloading of screensavers as a precaution. Staff members should be warned that any .scr file sent in an email should be treated with suspicion and not downloaded or installed. Criminals mask attachments and the .scr file may actually be an executable file that installs malware.
Ashley Madison revelations and TalkTalk scams
A number of major data breaches have been suffered this year that have resulted in customer data being exposed. Criminals are threatening to expose personal data, especially in the case of Ashley Madison clients. Emails are sent threatening breach victims, informing them that they must pay not to have their data posted on the internet. Some criminals will be in possession of the data; other scams will be speculative. If an email is received, it is essential that professional advice is sought before any action is taken.
If you receive an email asking you to take action to secure your account after a company you use has suffered a data breach – TalkTalk for example – it is essential to only change your password via the official website. Do not click on links contained in emails. They may be phishing scams.
Free Star Wars tickets
You can guarantee that such a major event for moviegoers will be the subject of multiple email spam campaigns. Criminals would not pass up the opportunity to take advantage of the release of a new Star Wars film.
There are likely to be competitions aplenty, free tickets offered, and many other Star Wars spam campaigns in the run up to the release. This is the biggest movie release of the year for many people. Fans of the films are excited. They want to see snippets of the film, read gossip, and find out if Luke Skywalker will actually be in the new film. Many people are likely to fall for scams and click phishing links or inadvertently install malware.
Get prepared this holiday season and you can keep your computer and network spam and malware free. Fail to take action and this holiday time is unlikely to be jolly. Quite the opposite in fact.
Criminals are increasingly using ransomware – Chimera ransomware for example – to extort victims. Ransomware encrypts certain file types with a powerful algorithm that cannot be unlocked without a security key. Unfortunately, the only person to hold that key is the hacker responsible for the ransomware infection.
Organizations and individuals that perform regular data backups can avoid paying the ransom demands and not face losing important files. If files are encrypted, they can be recovered from backups – provided of course that regular backups of critical data have been performed. Worst case scenario: Some data may be lost, but not a sufficient amount to warrant a ransom being paid.
Criminals are aware of this failsafe and have recently started to up the stakes. The criminals behind Chimera ransomware have been found to be using a new tactic to scare victims into giving into their demands. Even if a backup file has been made, victims can be easily convinced to pay the ransom. They are told that if the ransom is not paid, the files will be made public. Confidential information will be posted on darknet sites or listed for sale in online marketplaces.
Criminals Target Businesses and Encrypt Critical Files Using Chimera Ransomware
Hackers are known to send ransomware out randomly. The more computers that are infected; the more ransoms can be collected. Chimera ransomware on the other hand is being used more specifically, and small to medium sized businesses are being targeted. This stands to reason. An individual may not be willing, or able, to pay a ransom. Businesses are different. They may have no choice but to pay to have files unlocked. If data are posted online, the potential cost to the business could be far higher than the cost of the ransom.
How are computers infected with Chimera ransomware?
Spam emails are sent to specific individuals within an organization. Those emails contain innocent looking email attachments: the types of files that would commonly be received by the individuals being targeted. Business offers are sent, applications for employment, or invoices.
Attachments may not be opened or could be blocked by spam filters. To get around this issue, hackers often send links to cloud-storage services such as Dropbox. The user clicks the link and downloads the malware thinking it is a genuine file.
Once installed the malware gets to work encrypting files stored on local and mounted network drives. The user is not made aware of the infection until their computer is rebooted. In order to unencrypt files, the end user must pay the ransom. This is typically $500 in the form of Bitcoins.
It is not known whether hackers have acted on their threats to publish company data. Many businesses have been too scared to find out and have given in to the ransom demand.
How to protect your business from Chimera ransomware
There is no such thing as 100% protection from Chimera ransomware, but it is possible to reduce the risk of infection to a minimal level. Installing Anti-Spam solutions can prevent malware from reaching inboxes; however not all products offer protection from phishing links.
SpamTitan software on the other hand employs a powerful spam filter which uses dual AV engines to maximize the probability of malicious emails being caught. It also includes an anti-phishing module to protect against phishing links. If you don’t want to have to pay a ransom to recover your data, installing SpamTitan is the logical choice.
Are you protected from Chimera Ransomware? Would you risk the publishing of your business data or would you pay the ransom?
If you live in Ireland, you may receive an email offering you a refund on your electricity bill; however, the email is not genuine. Scammers are targeting current and former customers of Electric Ireland hoping they will respond to the offer of a refund. By doing so they will receive no money. They will just have their bank accounts emptied.
The Electric Ireland phishing scam is highly convincing
The Electric Ireland phishing emails appear to be genuine. They give a valid reason for clicking on the link contained in the email, and have been well written. The link directs the recipient to a phishing website that looks genuine. Even the request made on the website is perhaps not unreasonable.
In order to receive the refund, customers must enter in their banking information to allow the electricity company to make a transfer. In order to confirm their identity, current and former customers must supply proof of identity. The scammers ask for a scan of customers’ passports.
Other reports indicate that some customers have been sent links to fake websites that require them to disclose their mobile phone numbers as well as security codes and passwords.
It is unclear how the scammers have obtained the email addresses of Electric Ireland customers, as according to the utility company there has been no security breach, and the database in which customer account information is stored remains secure. However, an audit is being conducted by the company’s IT department to determine if any individual has managed to infiltrate its network or has otherwise gained access to customer data.
A spokesman for the Garda has confirmed that many Irish citizens have already fallen for the Electric Ireland phishing scam and have reported that fraudulent withdrawals have been made from their personal bank accounts.
The Electric Ireland phishing scam is one of many highly convincing campaigns to have been uncovered in recent weeks. Online criminals have become more skilled at crafting emails and setting up malicious websites, and it can be difficult to determine whether a request is genuine or fake.
The Electric Ireland phishing scam may look genuine, but legitimate companies would not send emails requesting sensitive information of that nature to be disclosed over the Internet. It should also be noted that if a company has taken excess funds from a bank account to pay a bill, the company would be able to issue a refund directly to the same bank account. They would not require those details to be provided again – nor request copies of ID, mobile phone numbers, or passwords.
If any individual who has fallen for the Electric Ireland phishing scam they should contact their bank immediately and place a block on their account. This will prevent the criminals from making any fraudulent transfers. However, it may be too late for many customers to prevent losses being suffered.
To reduce the risk of falling for phishing scams, the best defense is to block spam and scam emails from being delivered. To do this a spam filter should be used, such as that provided by SpamTitan. SpamTitan Technologies Anti-Spam solutions also include an Anti-Phishing module to ensure all users are better protected from malicious websites when surfing the Internet.
Any time an email is received that offers a refund, it is ill advisable to click on an email link. Attempts should be made to contact the company directly by calling the number listed on that company’s website. The matter should first be discussed with the company’s customer service department. Never open an email attachment contained in the email, and never divulge confidential information over the internet unless 100% sure of the genuineness of the website.
Cybercriminals are using SSL certificates installed on fake domains to fool users into thinking that the websites are genuine. The websites often use names that closely resemble a well-known brand. We have previously reported that criminals have been using domains containing typos to obtain website traffic and fool the unwary; however, it is also common for domains to be purchased using a well-known company name with additional words added to the end.
Because the websites contain the brand name, many visitors will be fooled into thinking that the websites are genuine. This is even more likely if a website has a valid SSL certificate and displays a padlock next to the URL. This is seen as a sign by many consumers that the website is real. A SSL certificate can no longer be trusted. It is only one indication that a website is genuine. Many new websites are offered a free SSL certificate.
Electronic Frontier Foundation phishing scam brought to an end
One website that has been fooling visitors into thinking the site was official is believed to have been set up by the cybercriminals behind the Pawn Storm phishing campaign: A group of hackers known as APT28. The group, which has links to the Russian government, used the brand name of the Electronic Frontier Foundation as part of a phishing campaign.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation phishing campaign used a .org website with the domain name, ElectronicFrontierFoundation. The official site used by the company is also a .org, but just uses the company’s initials: EFF.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation phishing site was not used to obtain bank account or credit card details, instead it was used to spread malware. The fake site was discovered to contain malware that exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Java software.
Electronic Frontier Foundation was alerted to the existence of the website and issued a complaint to the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – an organization that helps protect the intellectual property rights of corporations. After assessing the compliant, WIPO ruled that Electronic Frontier Foundation was entitled to take control of the domain, which has been ordered to be transferred to the non-profit digital rights group. Once that happens, the site will no longer pose a threat and ownership will be transferred from an individual based in Bali, Indonesia.
Organizations believing their copyright has been infringed can attempt to claim a registered domain by following the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) set up by ICANN. However, it can take a long time for the process to be completed. All the time that a fake domain is active it can result in a loss of income for the company concerned. Many customers or potential customers could have malware installed or be defrauded until the matter has been addressed and ownership of the website transferred.
In a case such as this, the domain name and SSL certificate made the website appear 100% legitimate, which no doubt resulted in many people having their computers infected with the malware.