The prominent products traded during 2015 on Russian underground forums were Ransomware programs and exploits targeting Microsoft Office. Prices on the Russian Underground have remained unchanged during the past two years, due to the vigorous competition between sellers on these platforms. Different kinds of services, such as digital signing for malicious files, injections development for MitM attacks and Crypting malware to avoid detection were also extremely popular on Russian forums.
Check out the new Infographic from SenseCy illustrating key trends observed on Russian underground in 2015.
A recent wave of ransomware attacks has hit countries around the world, with a large number of infections reported in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel. It appears that the attackers have no specific target, since the attacks have struck hospitals, financial institutions and private institutions, indicating that no specific industry has been targeted.
In Israel, two types of ransomware were identified in the most recent attacks: the familiar TeslaCrypt and the new ransomware, Locky.
The Evolution of Ransomware
The vigorous usage of ransomware tools by cybercriminals and their success in this area has led to the development of new ransomware and the constant upgrading of known models. During the past several months, researchers have reported on the development of ransomware that is capable of file encryption without Internet connection, i.e., they do not communicate with their C&C servers for the encryption process.
Additionally, RaaS (Ransom-as-a-Service) offers are becoming popular on closed DeepWeb and Darknet forums. These services allow potential attackers to easily create ransomware stubs, paying with profits from future successful infections. Recently, we identified a new RaaS dubbed Cerber ransomware, which is offered on a Russian underground forum. Previously it was ORX-Locker, offered as a service via a platform hosted on an .onion server.
The majority of the distribution vectors of ransomware stubs involve some kind of social engineering trap, for example, email messages including malicious Office files, spam messages with nasty links or malvertising campaigns exploiting vulnerable WordPress or Joomla websites with an embedded malevolent code. The distribution also takes advantage of Macro commands and exploit kits, such as Nuclear or Angler. Sometimes browser vulnerabilities are exploited, as well as stolen digital certificates.
In November 2015, attempts to deliver ransomware to Israeli clients were identified. In this case, the attackers spoofed a corporate email address and tried to make recipients believe the email was sent from a company worker.
Handling a Ransomware Attack
Please find below our suggestions for recommended action to avoid ransomware attacks on an organization, and how to deal with an attack after infection:
Defend Your Organization from Potential Threats
Train your employees – since the human link is the weakest link in the organizational cybersecurity and the majority of the cases involve social engineering on one of the employees, periodical employee briefing is extremely important. Specify the rules regarding using the company systems, and describe what phishing messages look like.
Disable running of Macro scripts on Office files sent via email – in recent months, many cases of ransomware attacks employing this vector were reported. Usually, Macro commands are disabled by default and we do not recommend enabling them. In addition, we suggest using Office Viewer software to open Word and Excel files.
Limit user privileges and constantly monitor the workstations – careful management of user privileges and limited administrator’s privileges may help in avoiding the spread of the ransomware in the organizational network. Moreover, monitoring the activity on workstations will be useful for early detection of any infection and blocking it from propagating to other systems and network resources.
Create rules that block programs from executing from AppData/LocalAppData folders. Many variants of the analyzed ransomware are executed from these directories, including CryptoLocker. Therefore, the creation of such rules may reduce the encryption risk significantly.
Install a Russian keyboard – while monitoring closed Russian forums where several ransomware families originated, we discovered that many of them will check if the infected computer is located in a post-Soviet country. Usually, this check is performed by detecting which keyboard layout is installed on the machine. If a Russian (or other post-Soviet language) keyboard layout is detected, the ransomware will not initiate the encryption process.
Keep your systems updated – in many cases, hackers take advantage of outdated systems to infiltrate the network. Therefore, frequent updates of the organizational systems and implementing the published security patch will significantly reduce the chances of infection.
Use third-party dedicated software to deal with the threat – many programs aimed at addressing specific ransomware threats are constantly being released. One is Windows AppLocker, which is included in the OS and assists in dealing with malware. We recommend contacting the organizational security vendor and considering the offered solutions.
Implement technical indicator and YARA rules in the company organizations. We provide our clients with intelligence items accompanied by technical indicators. Additionally, a dedicated repository that includes ransomware indicators was launched.
What if I am Already Infected?
Restore your files – some ransomware tools create a copy of the file, encrypt it and then erase the original file. If the deletion is performed via the OS erase feature, there is a chance to restore the files, since in majority of the cases, the OS does not immediately overwrite the deleted filed.
Decryption of the encrypted files – the decryption will be possible if you were infected by one of these three ransomware types: Bitcryptor, CoinVault or Linux.Encoder.1. Therefore, detecting the exact kind of ransomware that attacked the PC is crucial.
Back-up files on a separate storage device regularly – the best practice to avoid damage from a ransomware attack is to backup all your important files on a storage disconnected from the organizational network, since some ransomware variants are capable of encrypting files stored on connected devices. For example, researchers recently reported a ransomware that encrypted files stored on the Cloud Sync folder.
If ransomware is detected in the organization, immediately disconnect the infected machine from the network. Do not try to remove the malware or to reboot the system before identifying the ransomware. In some cases, performing one of these actions will make the decryption impossible, even after paying the ransom.
Written and prepared by SenseCy’s Cyber Intelligence analysts.
SenseCy’s 2015 Annual CTI Report spans the main trends and activities monitored by us in the different cyber arenas including the world of Arab hacktivism, the Russian underground, the English-speaking underground, the Darknet and the Iranian underground. In addition, we have listed the major cyber incidents that occurred in 2015, and the most prominent attacks against Israeli organizations.
The following is an excerpt from the report. To receive a copy, please send a request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
2015 was a prolific year for cyber threats, so before elaborating on our main insights from the different arenas covered here at SenseCy, we would like to first summarize three of the main trends we observed in 2015.
Firstly, when reviewing 2015, we recommend paying special attention to the evolving world of ransomware and new applications of this type of malware, such as Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS), and ransomware targeting cloud services, as opposed to local networks and more.
Secondly, throughout 2015, we witnessed cyber-attacks against high-profile targets attributed to ISIS-affiliated hackers and groups. One such incident was the January 2015 allegedly attack against the YouTube channel and Twitter account of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
Thirdly, 2015 revealed a continuing interest in the field of critical infrastructure among hackers. Throughout the year, we witnessed multiple incidents of critical infrastructure firms allegedly targeted by hackers, prompting periodic analyses addressing the potential vulnerabilities of critical sectors such as energy, water, and more. Taking into consideration the advanced capabilities and high-level of understanding of such systems required to execute such attacks, many security firms and experts are confident that these attacks are supported by nation-state actors.
The following are several of our insights regarding activities in different cyber arenas this past year:
During 2015, we detected several indications of anti-Israel cybercrime activity on closed platforms frequented by Arabic-speaking hackers. It will be interesting to see if these anti-Israel hacktivists that usually call to deface Israeli websites or carry out DDoS attacks will attempt to incorporate phishing attacks, spamming methods and tools into their arsenals. Notwithstanding, Islamic hacktivism activity continues unabated, but without any significant success.
Trade on Russian Underground Forums
The prominent products currently traded during 2015 on Russian underground forums are ransomware programs and exploits targeting Microsoft Office. With regard to banking Trojans, we did not notice any major developments or the appearance of new Trojans for sale. The PoS malware field has not yielded any new threats either, in contrast to the impression given by its intensive media coverage.
Mobile malware for Android devices is on the rise as well, with the majority of tools offered being Trojans, but we have also detected ransomware and loaders.
Prices on the Russian Underground have remained unchanged during the past two years, due to the vigorous competition between sellers on these platforms.
Different kinds of services, such as digital signing for malicious files, injections development for MitM attacks and crypting malware to avoid detection were also extremely popular on Russian forums.
The English-Language Underground
Our analysis of password-protected forums revealed that exploits were the best-selling products of 2015. This comes as no surprise, since exploits are a vital part of almost every attack.
The Darknet made the headlines on multiple occasions this year, mostly owing to databases that were leaked on it and media reports recounting FBI activities against Darknet users. Furthermore, this year saw increased activity by the hacking community on the Darknet, manifested in dedicated markets for the sale of 0-day exploits and the establishment of several new hacking forums.
The Iranian Underground
With regard to Iranian threat actors, 2015 was a highly prolific year, with attack groups making headlines around the world. Delving deeper into the Iranian underground, we uncovered several interesting trends, some more clear than others.
One main development in 2015 was the persistent interest in critical infrastructure, with underground forum members sharing and requesting information related to industrial control systems and other related components. With Iranian actors becoming increasingly drawn to this field, we assess that this trend will remain relevant in 2016 as well.
Another growing phenomenon is the stunted life cycles of Iranian cyber groups, many with a life-span of just several months. This trend makes it difficult to monitor the different entities active in the Iranian cyber arena and their activities. To understand the constant changes in this realm, this short life cycle trend must be taken into consideration and the Iranian cyber arena continuously monitored.
That said, we must not overlook one of the most prominent characteristics of Iranian attack groups – confidentiality. With attacks attributed to Iranian actors becoming more sophisticated and high-profile, we believe that the divide between medium-level practices of malicious activity and alleged state-sponsored activity by attack groups will remain pronounced.
ISIS – Cyber-Jihad
On the other side of the Arab-speaking cyber world, we can find ISIS and its evolving cyber activities. There is disagreement between intelligence firms and cyber experts about the cyber offensive capabilities of the Islamic State. In addition, there is a high motivation among hackers that identify with the group’s fundamentalist agenda to carry out cyber-attacks against Western targets, especially against those countries actively involved in the war against the group in Iraq and Syria.
It is summer in Russia, and the time of the year when people head to the seaside on vacation for a couple of weeks’ break. The decline in activity can be clearly seen on the Russian-speaking forums and marketplaces dealing with cybercrime. Apparently, cybercriminals also take a rest from their online activities, just as they would from a regular full-time job. For us, it is the best time to perform a deep analysis of the main trends in the Russian underground boards during the first half of 2015. When preparing the insights from this analysis, our goal was to identify the main scope of interest on closed, Russian-speaking forums these days, as well as to pinpoint the shifts that have occurred in the last six months.
In order to draw conclusions, we analyzed the threads from the last six months from the four leading Russian forums. These forums mainly serve as a marketplace for attack tools and platforms, in addition to being a source of information and consultation for the forum members. Hereinafter, we tried to summarize the main topics of conversation on Russian marketplaces dedicated to cybercrime during the past six months:
Exploit Kits: In recent months, we have witnessed numerous attacks involving EK as the intrusion vector, including Angler, Neutrino, Nuclear, Magnitude and RIG. These EKs are constantly updated with new exploits.
While some EKs are offered for sale on trading boards, others are available exclusively to selected buyers via private sales, using the Jabber instant messaging system for example. For one case in point, RIG EK 3.0 is offered for a monthly rental fee of $700 on a closed Russian forum (this is considered an extremely low price). In comparison, Angler EK, AKA XXX is not advertised at all among Russian forum members on any of the closed forums.
Banking Trojans: During the last few months, we did not spot any new banking Trojans for sale on the Russian underground. The majority of recent attacks against the financial industry clients were perpetrated using DYRE or Dridex banking Trojans. Even though there is evidence that both were developed by Russian coders and are distributed among Russian-speaking criminals, we did not witness any commercial trading of these Trojans.
The two Trojans currently selling on Russian forums are Kronos, whose sales started back in the middle of 2014, and the new version of Tinba, which is based on source code leaked in the 2014 version.
Ransomware: Despite the fact that new campaigns distributing ransomware are uncovered on a regular basis, culminating in an FBI alert at the beginning of 2015, we did not see an elevated interest in this kind of malware on the Russian forums. The sales of CTB-Locker were ceased, at least publicly, probably because of the extensive media coverage. None of the ransomware tools that are widely used in the wild (TorrentLocker, Tesla Crypt, Cryptowall), are offered for sale on Russian marketplaces. The only two new ransomware tools offered during H1 2015 were GM Cryptolocker for Android-based devices and Azazel locker, for just $200. Both are relatively new and there has been no comprehensive feedback from buyers as yet.
RAT malware based on legitimate software – a clear new trend on the Russian underground is the development of malicious tools based on the source code of legitimate software for remote access (such as TeamViewer, AmmyAdmin, etc.). These tools are disguised as an update for the software or as a setup file. Additional tools traded on the forums exploit services and programs for remote control, such as RDS (Remote Desktop Services, RMS (Remote Manipulator System) and RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).
To date, we have identified five different malicious tools of this kind for sale during the last six months. According to the sellers’ description, they are capable of bypassing defense mechanisms installed on the machine and gaining full access to it.
Loaders and Droppers – In recent months, we have identified a rise in this type of malware for sale on Russian underground forums. Generally, they it is spread via spam emails, and once installed on the system, serves as a tunnel for later installations of malicious programs. In this manner, defense mechanisms can be bypassed. One instance involving this malware was the infamous Andromeda, sold since 2011 to date for only $500. Andromeda was employed by the Carbanak group against financial targets. Aside from Andromeda, we also identified six new loaders and droppers offered for sale during the past six months.
Digital Certificates Trade – This phenomenon started as a sporadic sales thread, appearing occasionally on several forums during the last year. As demand expanded, trade in digital certificates evolved into a successful sub-category on Russian underground marketplaces. Recently, a dedicated online shop for trade in digital certificates was launched. The average price for one certificate is about 1.4 BTC.
The vigorous trade in these certificates demonstrates that they are quite useful for the purchasers, who use them to sign the malicious code they distribute and evade detection.
For obvious reasons, the sellers do not disclose the origin of the certificates, but claim they are authentic and were issued by a Certificate Authority (CA).
Russian underground forums often serve as a marketplace for talented coders of sophisticated malware who develop attack tools to target the financial industry.
During routine monitoring of these forums, we came across a new type of malware loader called H1N1. Loaders are used as an initial intrusion vector, enabling an attacker to install malware on a workstation at a later time of his own choosing. They provide the attacker with both an initial foothold in the victim’s system and a future channel for delivering malicious programs at any time.
The new loader, which is named after the swine flu virus, was offered for sale in late April for $500 by a member of a Russian password-protected forum.
According to the sales thread, H1N1 is a non-resident loader. This means that it is executed in the system, installs the programs from its task list, and deletes itself after the computer is rebooted. (A resident loader, on the other hand, writes itself into the operating system and is not deleted after reboot. Since it receives commands from the C&C server, it can keep installing malicious software on the infected computer.)
Bypasses User Account Control (UAC) through a UAC whitelist, which allows it to run files with elevated privileges. This bypass does not require use of additional .dll libraries or Windows Sysprep. If the loader is unable to receive elevated privileges, it will run programs with user privileges.
Traffic in both directions is encrypted.
Installs .exe files on the infected computer using Windows Instrumentation Management (WMI). The .dll files are installed from memory.
Has an embedded security mechanism that recognizes when it is being executed in a virtual machine.
Can be injected into the address space of legitimate system processes (of the default browsers).
Bypasses AV and HIPS programs. With AV programs, it does this by identifying their running processes and paths, creating copies of the processes, injecting into the copied processes, and finally, disabling all threads of the AV software’s legitimate processes.
Elevates privileges from a low integrity level by using WMI and exploiting the CVE-2014-4113 vulnerability.
Identifies and neutralizes certain AV programs.
A number of forum members who claimed to have used the tool gave generally positive feedback but stated that it does not bypass all AV programs. According to the technical analysis (below), Kaspersky Internet Security identified the presence of the loader, while ESET NOD32 and Outpost Security Suite did not. Avira only identified the activity as malicious in some cases (depending on the crypt of the loader).
In a VirusTotal analysis of the loader’s files, the detection ratio was 41/57 for the dropper file (as of May 21, 2015) and 22/57 for the memory file (as of May 14, 2015).
It is common practice on closed Russian forums for veteran, trusted members to analyze and validate malware sold by newbies to prevent them from cheating and selling a low-quality product. It is harder to find buyers for non-validated malware, especially if the seller is new to the forum (for a review of different types of sellers, see our previous post on this subject). Since a major part of the underground ecosystem is based on reputation and the hierarchy on different underground forums, an impartial entity whose role is to validate new goods is extremely important.
Ares, the administrator of a well-known Russian forum, conducted a validation analysis to check whether H1N1 really possesses the capabilities claimed by the seller, including the ability to bypass security measures. He published an extensive review on his forum.
According to Ares, the code is written in Assembly language and was obfuscated (for security purposes). Once all the initial procedures are loaded (the code utilizes kernel32 and advapi32 during loading), the loader launches the Explorer process from syswow64 on x64 systems and system32 on x86 systems. The process is mapped with a rewritten shellcode entrypoint.
The shellcode receives all of the necessary APIs and reads a packed binary file (which it extracts).
The binary is a .dll file that scans for various important API elements and then checks the hash signature of the filename through which the process was started. If the file name is Explorer, it tries to elevate its privileges.
Initially the malicious .dll file copies itself and patches with the shellcode. Later it moves the copied file into the system32/setup folder. After that, H1N1 runs several checks (such as OS version) and tries to elevate its privileges from medium to high.
The loader uses various methods to inject malicious content into legitimate processes. For example, if injection into a default browser fails, it tries to inject the malicious content through svchost.
Lastly, the execution module kicks in where the loader will be executed. The malware conducts fake network tests (for example, pinging various websites), collects information about the infected machine, and then requests content from the C&C server. The HTTP requests are encrypted with RC4 and the data length is transferred in the HTTP header.
Following publication of the analysis by Ares and in response to critical feedback from forum members, the seller has been updating and improving H1N1. For example, he responded to criticism of the UAC bypass by announcing that he had changed the bypass method and that it was now similar to the method used by the Carberp Trojan.
In later tests performed by several authoritative forum members, privilege escalation and the UAC bypass had a relatively low success rate. However, since then, the author claims to have fixed the problems with the loader.
An Important Recommendation
H1N1 uses bthudtask.exe for its purposes. This executable is part of Microsoft Windows and is usually located under C:\Windows\system32. The file description is “Bluetooth Uninstall Device Task.” If you do not require Bluetooth devices, we would strongly recommend removing the file from your end-points.
H1N1 is a new type of malware loader and is not yet very sophisticated. However, it has attracted the attention of many high-ranking Russian underground forum members, who have analyzed it and written about its weak points. This seems to be encouraging the seller to improve and upgrade his product and fix the bugs.
Russian underground cyber-markets are known venues for purchasing high-quality hacking tools and services. Many such tools, popular worldwide, make their first appearances on closed Russian forums. There are two main types of sellers on these platforms: well-known members with seniority and strong reputations, who have already sold tools and received positive buyer feedback, and an emerging “shell profile” type of user. According to our recent analysis, such users typically register to a forum a few days before posting an advertisement for the tool. These new users often enlist the aid of forum administrators and more senior members, by providing them with a copy of the tool for their review, and thus gain the trust of potential buyers.
For example, CTB-Locker, a malware program, was first advertised on a Russian underground forum on June 10, 2014 by a user called Tapkin. This ransomware scans the computer for data files, encrypts them with a unique algorithm, and demands a ransom to release them. Tapkin registered on this forum on June 2, 2014, several days before posting the advertisement, and posted a total of five messages to the forum, all on the subject of CTB-Locker. Around this time, a user by the same name posted identical information on other forums.
Tapkin registered to another Russian underground forum on June 13, 2014, and three days later, he advertised the tool on the forum. This was the first and only thread that Tapkin started on this platform, and all of his posts were about this topic.
Tapkin stopped selling CTB-Locker on June 27, but on November 19, 2014, he posted another advertisement, this time for “serious” clients only. Tapkin last advertised the ransomware on a carding forum on December 8, 2014, after registering to this forum the same day.
Thus, in three cases, Tapkin registered to a forum a few days before posting an advertisement for the tool and did not participate in any other forum discussions. As a newly created profile, Tapkin lacked seniority and therefore had low credibility. However, our impression is that this user demonstrates knowledge regarding the tool, its capabilities and can answer questions regarding the technical component of the tool fluently. An analysis of Tapkin’s posts indicates that behind the shell profile is not one person, but rather a group of people who developed the tool together.
This username appears to have been created for the sole purpose of selling the ransomware, which was only advertised on Russian-speaking platforms. On May 19, 2015, a well-known forum user posted a message stating that his computer had been infected by CTB-Locker and asking for Tapkin. However, Tapkin had by then already disappeared.
Another example of malware advertised by a new forum member is the Loki Bot password and coin wallet stealer. Loki Bot, written in C++, can steal passwords from browsers, FTP/SSH applications, email accounts, and poker clients. It has an option to configure C&C IP addresses or domains.
This bot, which works on Windows versions XP, Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1, is relatively new and is still under development. It was first advertised on a well-known Russian underground forum in early May 2015 by a new user with no reputation. A week later, a user by the same name registered on two other well-known underground forums attempted to boost his credibility by sending the forum administrator a test version of the malware. Similar to the previous example, we assume that a group of people is behind this user as well.
We can see that new users are registering on Russian underground forums for one purpose only, to sell a particular malware program, and their entire online presence is focused on this. They register to a forum a few days before posting an advertisement for the tool and do not participate in other forum discussions. Newly created profiles lack seniority and therefore have low credibility ratings. Sometimes such users attempt to improve their credibility by sending the forum administrator a test version of the malware. In some cases we can see that behind the shell profile there is a team, and not an individual. They appear suddenly and disappear just as suddenly after their business is completed.