A Colorado Department of Transportation ransomware attack on February 21, 2018 affected at least 21 computers preventing files from being accessed by employees. A prompt response to the ransomware attack limited the harm caused, although to prevent the spread of the ransomware more than 2,000 computers were shut down.
The attack has already caused considerable disruption, which is ongoing as the cleanup operation continues.
The DOT says it received a ransom demand which would need to be paid in order to obtain the keys to unlock encrypted files, but that the DOT has no intention of paying any money to the attackers. Instead the firm has called in an external cybersecurity firm (McAfee) to restore data on the affected workstations and ensure all devices are clean and protected from infection. All encrypted files will be recovered from backups.
Fortunately, the ransomware attack was limited to certain endpoints. Other computer systems that are used with surveillance cameras and traffic alerts were not affected.
The Colorado Department of Transportation ransomware attack is one of several high-profile attacks involving SamSam ransomware to have been reported this year. Hancock Health Hospital in Indiana was one notable victim. The hospital was issued with a ransom demand and paid the attackers for the keys to unlock the encryption, even though backups could have been used to recover files. A Bitcoin payment worth approximately $55,000 is believed to have been paid. The payment was believed to be considerably less than the cost of disruption while files were recovered from backups.
Another Indiana hospital – Adams Memorial Hospital was also attacked with a variant of SamSam ransomware, and Allscripts – an electronic health record provider – also suffered an attack that took down some of its web services.
SamSam ransomware first surfaced in 2015, and while some antivirus and antimalware solutions can detect the malware, the attackers continue to release new variants that are much better at evading detection.
Bleeping Computer reported on January 19 that one of the Bitcoin wallets used by the gang involved in SamSam ransomware campaign had already made approximately $300,000 from ransom payments, although that figure will almost certainly be higher since multiple Bitcoin wallets are believed to be used and the campaign is ongoing.
On February 15, Secureworks reported that the profits from the attacks had increased to at least $350,000, with the firm attributing the attacks to a hacking group called Gold Lowell.
It is unclear how the Colorado Department of Transportation ransomware attack occurred. Some sources report that the attack involved phishing emails, although Gold Lowell’s modus operandi is leveraging vulnerabilities in Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) services.
With the campaign ongoing, all businesses should be alert to the threat from phishing and RDP attacks. Spam filters, such as TitanHQ’s cloud-based anti-spam service, are essential as is anti-phishing training for employees. If RDP is necessary, strong passwords should be set and controls implemented to reduce the potential for brute force attacks. Rate limiting on login attempts for example. It is also important to make sure that multiple data backups are performed to ensure files can be recovered in the event of an attack.