The Travelex ransomware attack that started around December 31, 2019 is one of several recent ransomware attacks where threat actors have upped the ante by threatening to publish data stolen from victims prior to the deployment of ransomware.
A New Trend in Ransomware Attacks
Most ransomware attacks, especially those conducted by affiliates using ransomware-as-a-service, see ransomware deployed instantly. An employee receives a ransomware attachment via email, opens the attachment, and the encryption process is started. Now, several threat actors have taken steps to increase the probability of their ransom demand being paid.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has recently issued warnings about changing ransomware tactics, which now involve data theft prior to file encryption. This tactic is nothing new, as several threat actors have been conducting these types of attacks for some time, attacks of this nature have been increasing.
to the network is gained, the attackers then move laterally and gain access to as many devices as possible. Data is stolen and when the attackers have stolen as much as they want, ransomware is deployed. In these types of attacks, the time between the initial compromise and deployment of ransomware is typically several months.
Data may be stolen and sold online with the ransomware deployed as a coup de grace after a long-term compromise to extort money from the company. Now it is increasingly common for a threat to be issued along with the ransom demand that the stolen data will be published or sold if the ransom is not paid.
This tactic has been adopted by the threat actors behind Maze ransomware and they have gone ahead and published stolen data when the ransom was not paid. The threat actors using MegaCortex ransomware and LockerGoga ransomware have similarly issued threats.
Now the gang behind Sodinikibi (REvil) ransomware have also changed tactics and have started issuing threats to publish stolen data. The Sodinokibi gang have made several threats to sell on or publish stolen data but it was only recently that they did just that. The gang attacked Artech Information Systems, one of the largest IT staffing companies in the U.S. When the ransom demand was not paid, 337MB of stolen data was published on a Russian hacking and malware forum. The Travelex ransomware attack is one of the latest Sodinokibi ransomware attacks, and a threat to publish stolen data was similarly issued.
The Travelex Ransomware Attack
On New Year’s Eve, Travelex took its systems offline to contain the infection and limit the damage caused. More than two weeks on, Travelex systems are still offline although the company is now starting to restore some of its systems. The number of branches affected by the attack, and banks and other companies that rely on its currency exchange services, makes this one of the most serious and damaging ransomware attacks ever.
With its systems offline, Travelex has been unable to provide its currency services to banks such as HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest, First Direct, Barclays and Lloyds, all of which rely on Travelex for providing their currency services. Many other companies, such as the supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Tesco, have also had to stop providing online currency services to their customers. Travelex has been forced to provide services manually using pen and paper for over the counter currency exchanges in its branches. More than 70 countries in which Travelex operates were affected by the attack.
Travelex has only released a limited amount of information about the attack, but the attackers have been in contact with several media outlets. Initial reports suggested a payment of $3 million was required for the keys to unlock the encryption, although the demand doubled to $6 million when payment was not received within the stipulated 2 days. The attackers also threatened to publish data stolen in the attack if the payment was not made within 7 days.
Travelex issued a statement saying no customer data was breached and that the infection was contained, a position that has been maintained since the attack, even though the Sodinokibi gang has threatened to publish customer data.
The Sodinokibi ransomware gang, through a spokesperson, said the gang had stolen 5GB of customer data including customers’ names, dates of birth, credit card information, Social Security numbers, and National Insurance numbers. The gang claimed that all stolen data would be deleted and would not be used if the ransom demand was paid, but that the data would be sold if payment was not received. The gang also said access to Travelex systems was gained 6 months before the ransomware was deployed.
How Was Travelex Attacked?
It is not known at this stage exactly how ransomware was installed on its network, but there have been several security researchers that have offered some clues. According to BleepingComputer, Travelex was using insecure services prior to the attack. Security researcher Kevin Beaumont found Travelex had AWS Windows servers that did not have Network Level Authentication enabled, which could have given the attackers the opportunity they needed to launch an attack.
A critical vulnerability in the Pulse Secure VPN enterprise solution for secure communications – CVE-2019-11510 – was identified and was patched by Pulse Secure on April 24, 2019, but many companies were slow to apply the patch, despite receiving multiple warnings from Pulse Secure. An exploit for the vulnerability was made public on August 21, 2019.
Troy Mursch, chief research officer at Bad Packets, found that Travelex had not applied the patch by the time the exploit was released. The Sodinokibi ransomware gang said they compromised Travelex 6 months prior to the deployment of ransomware. This could have been the vulnerability that was exploited.
Recovery Now Well Underway
On January 13, 2020, more than 2 weeks after the ransomware attack was experienced, Travelex issued a statement confirming that the recovery process was well underway, although the firm’s website was still offline. The company had started restoring its currency services to banks and its own network. Internal order processing has been restored and customer-facing systems are slowly being brought back online. What Travelex has not confirmed is whether the ransom was paid. No Travelex data appears to have been published online so it is possible that a ransom payment has been negotiated with the attackers.
Cost of the Travelex Ransomware Attack
The ransom payment is considerable but is likely to be several orders of magnitude less than the costs of downtime and disruption to its services.
No customer data appears to have been misused, but Travelex could still face a barrage of lawsuits from customers and the Information Commissioner’s Office and other data protection authorities my choose to fine Travelex over the data breach, either for the exposure of data or for the failure to report under GDPR.
GDPR requires data breaches to be reported to data protection authorities within 72 hours and it appears that did not happen. The maximum financial penalty for a GDPR violation is €20 million or 4% of a company’s global annual turnover, whichever is greater. Travelex’s global annual turnover in 2018 was $947.86 million. A fine of $189.57 million could therefore be issued. It should be noted that even if data was not stolen by the attackers and was just made inaccessible, it still counts as a reportable data breach under GDPR.
A payment of $6 million to the attackers would only be a tiny proportion of the total losses from downtime, lost business, lawsuits, and regulatory fines.