Sage Ransomware Distinguishes Itself with Engaging User Interface and Easy Payment Process

In early 2017, the Sage ransomware distinguished itself with a fresh take on the business model for criminal ransomware operations. Built with an engaging, intuitive user interface for requesting the ransom payment, it also reinforced the fact criminals are willing to invest in developing new versions of established ransomware tools.  Sage has reasserted itself as a relevant player on the already-saturated ransomware threat landscape with version 2.2.

TrickBot Targeting Financial and Cryptocurrency Data

While a great deal of focus for research into botnet trojans is on the multipurpose utility of this malware, many of these same tools are still utilized for direct financial crimes and fraud. This configuration data, provides a prima-facie insight into some of the preferred means for monetary gains by threat actors. An example of this can be found in the most recent rounds of TrickBot malware configurations. These XML documents describe the targeted login pages for online services and the action the malware is to take when a victim visits one. Many of the targeted resources reference the login pages for online banking portals, as many malware tools with financial-crimes capabilities often do. However, TrickBot’s targeting of cryptocurrency wallet services also an interesting insight into this malware’s targeting and its relationship to its predecessor, the Dyre trojan.

Petya-like Ransomware Triggers Global Crisis with Echoes of WannaCry Attack

For the second time in as many months, networks around the world have been attacked using a worming ransomware that gains new infections by exploiting a recently-patched Windows SMB vulnerability among other proven techniques. What has been described a ransomware bearing significant similarities to the Petya encryption ransomware ravaged numerous companies and networks around the world with disproportionate impact in Ukraine and Eastern Europe but also inflicted harm to significant numbers of victims in Western Europe and North America.

TrickBot Featured in New Wave of Phishing Emails Signaling Renewed Use of this Botnet Malware

The TrickBot financial crimes and botnet malware has seen mild usage since its introduction in late 2016. While it is able to emulate many of the features that made the Dyre trojan so successful, many aspects of its deployment left it rough around the edges. Examples of this roughness like persistence via a scheduled Windows task named “Bot” limited this malware’s evasion and anti-forensic capabilities. Furthermore, previous deliveries leveraged relatively simplistic techniques such as relying on executables in archives attached to phishing emails securing new infections. However, with some very minor refinements to both the malware resident and delivery processes, threat actors have evidenced a renewed drive to explore the possibilities this malware tool has to offer. The exploration of malware technologies and delivery processes are both trends that have been previously addressed in PhishMe® reporting and, as threat actors continue to turn to commoditized delivery methods, will continue to evolve.

TrickBot is a robust financial crimes and botnet trojan that shares a number of characteristics with the infamous Dyre banking trojan. Despite sharing similar functionality, TrickBot is an approximation of Dyre, not an exact copy. While this extends to the theft of online banking credentials, this botnet tool is flexible enough to provide threat actors with the ability to adapt and customize their intrusion based on information collected about machines infected by TrickBot.

One of the most tenacious and recurring delivery methodologies featured within the current threat landscape is the combination of PDF documents with an embedded Microsoft Word document. This document in turn contains macro scripting used to download and deobfuscate an XOR-ciphered executable payload. A number of current top-tier malware varieties have been deployed using this methodology. Criminals delivering the Jaff encryption ransomware and before it the Locky encryption ransomware both harnessed this technique as have the Dridex threat actors. This technique is popular because it provides some advantages over using a PDF or Word document with macros alone. The first and most obvious is the appearance it presents to its recipients. While awareness of Word documents with macros has proliferated in recent years due to its prolific use in phishing attacks, by adding just one step, unprepared users can be convinced to engage with the infection method.

Figure 1 – PDF reader requests permission to extract and open a Word document as seen with Jaff, Locky, and Dridex

This technique has now been employed as a means of delivering the TrickBot malware along with a renewed use of standalone Office documents with macro scripting. The phishing emails delivering these infection utilities featured no message content, no narrative, and in some cases, no subject line. This employs a different social engineering technique that, rather than relying on persuasive argumentation, appeals to the recipient’s curiosity.

Attachment Filename MD5 Hash
11180651.pdf d397901e0d35a108ed4218715e47f79d
89049517.pdf b327868a11287995c32dc433dbeb3fb7
61783306.pdf bb42465392dbc15c1b4ed88ab6ed47b3
33238593.pdf b0f75286403bd759872bde9655c76038
SCAN_0221.doc ed1e1515dcc0d8a7608e73345de642ea
SCAN_9392.doc e9d181fbbe7d10bf2b17672b4966ae70
SCAN_4659.doc 4596f215c4760cd643fc79935fd41736
SCAN_1146.doc c019021cf3473e46395791ca18e2dd82

Figure 2 – Example indicators from campaigns using this attack method

However, this renewed threat actor utilization also brings a very subtle refinement to the overall polish of the TrickBot deployment intended to improve its rate of successful infection as well as its likelihood to persist undetected on infected endpoints. The TrickBot malware relies on a Windows Task to ensure its persistence within infected environments. This task is defined by an XML file written to disk after TrickBot is initially run. Early examples of this persistence task were named “Bot” and would show up as such during audits of system tasks. However, this most recent iteration of task from “Bot” to the much less obvious “services update”. While this refinement may seem insignificant, it portends a much more serious approach on the part of the threat actor. One of these two filenames would look entirely out of place within an infected environment while the latter would be more reasonable–perhaps reasonable enough to escape detection.

Figure 3 – An excerpt from the “services update” Windows task

This renewed interest and exploration into distribution of the TrickBot malware comes with a handful of refinements in delivery and persistence. By harnessing a successful distribution methodology and refining their persistence mechanism, criminals using TrickBot are attempting to take their success using this botnet malware to another level. The challenge for security professionals is to develop a comprehensive defense against these improvements. The best approach is to combine tactical observations and atomic indicators with a strategic view of threat actors’ goals. Ultimately, defenders should not focus on just one attack vector or malware tool, but instead should anticipate the strategy threat actors use to accomplish their mission. In many cases, this mission is predicated upon the success of phishing emails.

Understanding how attackers craft and deploy these emails allows an organization to prepare and empower the email users within their organization. These users can then engage critically with those messages and, when a suspicious email is detected, report it to the security and incident responders defending the enterprise. These internal reports can then be compared to and combined with external sources to help network defenders overcome threats at a tactical level and apply those tactics as part of a greater strategy to overcome any phishing threat.

Learn about emerging trends and evolving threats in phishing malware with PhishMe’s Q1 Malware report, click here to download.

WannaCry Highlights an Evolving Threat Landscape

The WannaCry ransomware incident has galvanized global media coverage and dominated discussion among information security professionals since Friday, May 12. The speed with which this malware was able to spread within enterprise networks and how rapidly so many large organizations were impacted is unsettling. Yet, as the dust begins to settle, it is clear that this episode has left a number of lessons in its wake–lessons to be harnessed by defenders and their adversaries.

While this attack is an expansive topic that will continue to evolve as more discoveries are made about the impact, origin, and spread of the WannaCry ransomware, it is also important to keep in mind that WannaCry is one of three major incidents to arise in the past month. Lessons provided by WannaCry are only deepened by the additional context of the fake Google Docs malicious cloud application incident of May 4, 2017 and the introduction of the Jaff encryption ransomware on May 11, 2017. First and most obvious, both Jaff and WannaCry show that the ransomware business model is far from obsolete. There is still a great deal of value to threat actors in holding data for ransom. Second, the novel attack vectors for WannaCry and the fake Google Docs cloud application show that innovation in leveraging new attack surfaces is happening among threat actors. The challenge for defenders is to internalize these revelations and develop an agile security posture that incorporates defense against existing risks and emergent attack vectors.

Figure 1 – WannaCry combined classic ransomware elements with powerful propagation potential

The explosive growth of ransomware in 2016 marked a dramatic shift in how many threat actors monetize phishing attacks. While certain ransomware tools were delivered using other mechanisms, tools like Locky and Cerber set the tone for the ransomware business model. These ransomware tools were delivered by massive numbers of phishing email to reach the largest number of victims. This business model has been once again put into action by the Jaff encryption ransomware following its debut just one week ago on May 11, 2017. However, the worm functionality demonstrated by WannaCry puts a unique spin on that model by reducing the infrastructure and resource expenditure necessary for the threat actor to maximize their ability to infect new hosts. The goal for both Jaff and WannaCry threat actors is still to reach as many victims as possible to maximize the number of potential ransom payments, lending credence to the notion that ransomware is far from obsolete as an avenue for online crime.

Figure 2 – Jaff relies on commonplace and familiar phishing narratives to infect victims

Figure 3 – Although a new ransomware, Jaff brings few new features to the table

While the propagation mechanisms of the fake “Google Docs” application that made headlines on May 4, 2017 and the WannaCry ransomware worm differ dramatically, both show that virulence is an important aspect of their overall strategy. Furthermore, each of these incidents shows a significant level of innovation by harnessing relatively new attack vectors. The fake “Google Docs” incident took advantage of users’ reliance on cloud services to propagate while WannaCry leveraged a vulnerability only recently disclosed and made public. However effective these attacks were in their own right, the long-term impact will be the future attacks inspired by these innovations. Whether the payload is a ransomware or some other category of malware, threat actors are watching and learning from these attacks. Furthermore, neither innovation is exclusive of the use phishing email as a means for making a “first contact” with a victim as was the case with the fake “Google Docs” application. By combining these promising innovations with a tried-and-trusted attack vector, threat actors will continue to gain access to enterprise data and hold it for ransom.

Figure 4 – Phishing email was used as a vector for attacking cloud infrastructure using a fake Google Docs web application

The high profile events of the past month have provided some indication that threat actors are quickening the pace of innovation and looking to combine these innovations with existing attack models. Both phishing and the ransomware tools delivered via phishing emails have proven very successful for threat actors and continued use of both can be expected. However, as threat actors learn from events like those from the past month it can be expected that they will attempt to implement their own versions using creative re-combinations of these techniques to launch attacks of their own.

To anticipate and mitigate these new attack vectors, those tasked with defending enterprises must adapt their security posture to changing paradigms. It is important to ensure there are agile defense and response processes that incorporate protections for multiple attack surfaces and at various stages of the attack life cycle. This effort begins with the basics of regular patching and network hygiene. It also requires the anticipatory education and empowerment of email users to engage with messages critically and act on suspicions, reporting potentially-malicious emails to the enterprise’s defenders. These internal reports can then be compared to external observations and intelligence reporting to identify the most immediate risks to an organization. The threat landscape is evolving, but in the face of robust, holistic, and human-centered defense strategies, attackers can be overcome.

Learn why more than half of the Fortune 100 trusts PhishMe® for end-to-end phishing mitigation. Request a free demo today, no obligations, no software to install.

In the Shadow of WannaCry, Jaff Ransomware Arrives Using Familiar Phishing Techniques

Adding another entry to the ever-growing list of encryption ransomware, the Jaff Ransomware made its debut onto the threat landscape with large sets of phishing emails on May 11, 2017 – one day before the sensational impact of the WannaCry ransomware attack. However, the risks posed by the Jaff ransomware should not be overlooked. This, too, is a robust ransomware that leverages some of the most prolifically-used delivery mechanisms in phishing email and embodies characteristics associated with other very successful malware.

Locky Stages Comeback Borrowing Dridex Delivery Techniques

The ransomware that defined much of the phishing threat landscape in 2016 raged back into prominence on April 21, 2017 with multiple sets of phishing email messages. Harkening back to narratives used throughout 2016, these messages leveraged simple, easily-recognizable, but perennially-effective phishing lures to convince recipients to open the attached file.

How Dridex Threat Actors Craft Phishing Attacks, No Exploits Necessary

Threat actors using the Dridex botnet malware received a great deal of attention recently for their purported utilization of content exploiting a previously un-patched vulnerability in Microsoft Word. This exploit, which took advantage of unexpected behavior in the handling of certain document types, was reportedly used to deliver the Dridex botnet malware via documents attached to phishing emails. However, the bulk of Dridex campaigns leverage far more common delivery techniques that abuse the functionality that already exists in Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader rather than deploying some complex exploit content. This serves as a reminder that threat actors don’t always rely on exploit content because exploits of un-patched vulnerabilities are no longer required to break into an enterprise; simple phishing messages can accomplish this same goal.

Tax-time Phishing: A Global Problem

I don’t think anyone likes to do taxes… unless you’re an accountant. Maybe.

Collecting all the documents, knowing which ones are needed, completing them in time, and handing over payments is a headache for individuals and companies alike. Phishing threat actors know this and will try to take advantage.

The United States Internal Revenue Service provides lots of resources about recent and relevant phishing attacks and scams targeting American taxpayers. Their international counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia also provide extensive resources on recent attacks impacting their taxpayers. One important aspect of the material provided by these organizations is the delineation between what communication can be expected from each taxation authority and what forms of communication should be considered suspicious. For example, the Internal Revenue Service states that, “The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.”

The most common social engineering tactics utilized by threat actors appeal to fear, uncertainty, and doubt—three things that, for some, go together with the tax filing season. Often, threat actors will use phishing narratives that threaten the recipient with legal action because they supposedly failed to properly file their taxes. Other techniques use reminders or “helpful hints” appealing to recipients’ uncertainty and desire to take the best route for doing their taxes. These messages are often used to deliver malware tools designed to steal personal and corporate information. However, other threat actors take a still-more direct route inspired by the CEO fraud and BEC attacks that have become very popular and very, very profitable. In these scenarios, the threat actors impersonate a VIP within a company or organization and simply request that someone in the company’s human resources department simply send a copy of all the income reporting forms for every employee in the company.

Both techniques embody an interesting intersection that belies how threat actors operate. Threat actors often seek to infect the largest number of users possible with their malware tools. This allows them to maximize their opportunities for monetizing their malware deployments whether the malware in use is designed to provide access to private information or to simply encrypt it and demand a ransom payment. One example identified by PhishMe Intelligence in December 2016 targets individuals by offering up unsolicited tax advice regarding retirement savings. Attacks like these, if directed to victims outside of a firm or organization, can be used to impact those victims as individuals only.

Figure 1 – Unsolicited tax advice has been observed as an avenue for delivering malware

Threat actors have recognized this and some have adjusted their strategy. As a result, they have introduced attacks that take advantage of the intersection of two contemporary techniques.

First, they employ elements of soft targeting, a strategy in which phishers cast a wide net using a narrative intended to appeal to a class of individual. A prolific example of soft targeting is the ever-present “resume” phishing theme intended to disproportionately impact human resources personnel. Similarly, many tax-themed phishing campaigns are designed to disproportionately impact financial and accounting professionals within companies so the threat actor can gain access to the greatest amount of sensitive information at once. Whether the attack is designed to deliver a tool to steal financial information or hold it for ransom, threat actors appeal to accounting professionals’ careful handling of tax matters.

Second, phishers blend their techniques with the CEO fraud or BEC strategies by imposing a fake demand that an accounting professional turn over a company’s W-2 information for “review” by an imposter company VIP. These fraudulent requests are directed to someone within the organization responsible for fulfilling the requirement that tax information be completed promptly and accurately. The threat actor is therefore linking together the pressure of responding to senior management with the pressure of completing taxation paperwork promptly. The result if a compelling narrative that the threat actor hopes will result in the turnover of sensitive information about a company’s employees—simply by asking for it.

An example of the former was used to deliver the Spora Ransomware in January 2017 using a lure informing the victim that a “loyalty” tax refund may be available to them. With the listed sender “IndustrialandCommercial[.]com”, this was intended to resemble an opportunity for the recipient to learn more about a tax break to which their company may be entitled.

Figure 2 – Other campaigns have attempted to pitch a tax break to recipients

 

These appeals are not unique to the United States. Threat actors have frequently abused the names and impersonated representatives of taxation authorities around the world. Examples collected by PhishMe Intelligence in just past two months include emails delivering malware through impersonation of Australian, Brazilian, Indian, and Italian tax authorities. Each example delivered some form of malware utility used to carry out the theft of sensitive information.

Figure 3 – Australian Tax Office impersonated to deliver malware

Figure 4 – Increased diversity in impersonated tax authorities over the past year

Figure 5 – Examples include full internationalization in language selection

 

While these threat actors all sought to deliver some malware tools to their victims, threat actors requesting sensitive information have been active this year as well. The rash of BEC and CEO fraud scams that netted criminals around the world more than 3 billion dollars and lost US victims just shy of a billion dollars as of June 2016 per FBI reporting. Emulating this technique, other threat actors target the private, personal information of companies’ employees by sending emails to custodians of W-2 information while impersonating a member of a company’s top-level management. These emails simply ask individuals to turn over to the criminal all the W-2 information for the company.

Like taxes, it’s clear these types of attacks are not going away anytime soon. However, through consistent training organizations can battle these types of threats and potentially lower their impact. It’s important to remember that the IRS will never ask you for any sensitive information in an email, and when in doubt, go directly to the IRS website instead of following links in emails.

Now, there are 3 things about which you can be sure: Death, Taxes and Phishing!