Why Is Ryuk The Most Dangerous Ransomware?

Ryuk is one of the most prevalent ransomware variants in the threat landscape, with infections doubling from the second to the third quarter in 2019.

Ransomware infections continue to increase in tandem with overall impact and monetary demands.

Furthermore, Ryuk’s ability to delete shadow copies and backups makes Ryuk extremely costly and almost impossible to remediate.

For instance, Ryuk operators demanded nearly $600,000 from one government agency after successfully encrypting nearly all files on the network.

Ryuk uses encryption to block access to a system, device, or file until a ransom is paid. It is often dropped on a system by other malware (e.g., TrickBot) or delivered by cyber threat actors (CTAs) after gaining access to the system through compromising Remote Desktop Services.

Once on a system, CTAs deploy Ryuk through the network using PowerShell, PsExec, or Group Policy, with aim to infect as many systems as possible. The number of infected systems depends upon how the malware is deployed as well as the CTA’s access and privileges.

This may be a local subnet, the list of computers in active directory, or the entire organization depending on the variability and process specific nature of spreading the malware.

Once the malware is pushed out to the network, it targets backups and begins the encryption process.

Researchers have observed an increase in Emotet or TrickBot infections leading to a Ryuk infection.

For example, TrickBot disabled the organization’s endpoint antivirus application and spread throughout the network, infecting hundreds of endpoints and multiple servers.

Since TrickBot is a banking trojan, it likely harvested and exfiltrated financial and other sensitive information prior to deploying Ryuk.

Once Ryuk is deployed network-wide, the CTAs encrypted the organization’s data and backups, and left ransom notes on the machines.

Ryuk ransom notes once contained a message and a ransom amount, but have since evolved over time.

Throughout most of 2019, the ransom note did not list a ransom amount and only contained a message and email address. However, now Ryuk ransom notes are very simplistic, with no price or message, only containing an email address, the ransomware’s name, and the statement “balance of shadow universe.”

The CTAs demands payment via Bitcoin cryptocurrency and direct victims to deposit the ransom into specific Bitcoin wallets.

The ransom demand is typically between $100,000-$600,000, which as of 12/19/19 is 14-84 Bitcoins. Notably the ransom demand is determined by the organizations’ assessed ability to pay and the sensitivity of the data affected.

It is highly likely the CTAs account for characteristics like industry, solvency, subscription to cyber insurance, and network saturation when calculating ransom demands. Furthermore, the CTAs have been known to negotiate with victims and adjust the initial ransom amount.

Ryuk’s main infection method is to be dropped on a system by other malware. The file will have a five-letter random name that is usually generated by the srand1 and GetTickCount2 functions.

Once executed, the main payload attempts to stop antivirus related processes and services. It uses a preconfigured list to kill more than 40 specific processes and 180 services with taskkill and net stop commands.

This preconfigured list includes antivirus processes, databases, backups, and document editing software. Additionally, the main payload establishes persistence in the registry and injects malicious payloads into several running processes.

To increase persistence, Ryuk makes changes to the registry allowing it to run the payload every time the user logs on.

Ryuk’s anti-recovery techniques are more extensive and sophisticated than most types of ransomware, making recovery almost impossible without restoring from clean external offline backups.

Ryuk’s process injection allows the malware to gain access to the volume shadow service and delete all shadow copies, including those used by third-party applications.

Ryuk uses unbreakable RSA and AES encryption algorithms with three keys. The CTAs use a private global RSA key as their base encryption model. The second RSA key is delivered to the system via the main payload and is encrypted with the CTA’s private global RSA key.

Once the malware is ready for encryption, the final key is created in their three-key encryption model.

Ryuk scans the infected systems and encrypts almost every file, directory, drive, network share, and network resource.

Ryuk attempts to encrypt all mounted network drives. As long as the drives are not CD-ROM types, the files will be encrypted.

Finally, once the malware is finished with the encryption process, it will create the ransom note, “RyukReadMe.txt”, placing it in every folder on the system.

Top 5 Cybersecurity Predictions For 2019

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Cyber threats are a genuine danger for businesses, no matter their size or industry. Companies that face data breaches are likely to fail within months after the attack, according to the National Cyber Security Alliance. Security issues can ruin your reputation and cause expensive damage to your company.

In 2019, we are already predicting increased cyber crimes to steal more data and resources. The FBI reported that over $1.4 billion in losses were experienced by companies and individuals in 2017.

These expenses come from increasing security, losing information, losing physical resources, ransomware payouts, scams and more. The most significant sources of cybercrime included: [Read more…]

Wannacry Ransomware Continues To Be A Problem For Some

It’s been almost two years since the outbreak of the Wannacry ransomware epidemic. Unfortunately, all this time later, some companies are still dealing with the fallout. According to the latest research, Wannacry is still infecting hundreds of thousands of computers around the globe.

WannaCry is a ransomware worm that spread rapidly through across a number of computer networks in May of 2017. After infecting Windows computers, it encrypts files on the PC’s hard drive, making them impossible for users to access, then demands a ransom payment in bitcoin in order to decrypt them.

A number of factors made the initial spread of WannaCry particularly noteworthy: it struck a number of important and high-profile systems, including many in Britain’s National Health Service; it exploited a Windows vulnerability that was suspected to have been first discovered by the United States National Security Agency; and it was linked by Symantec and other security researchers to the Lazarus Group, a cybercrime organization connected to the North Korean government.

As grim as that sounds, it’s not all bad news. After all, the malware has been rendered harmless by the now famous “kill switch” discovered by Kryptos Logic security researcher Marcus Hutchins, who found a glaring flaw in the design of the software. The flaw allowed him to register a domain and encode it with instructions that would keep the ransomware component of Wannacry from activating and actually encrypting files.

That, however, did nothing to get rid of the malicious code infecting legions of PCs around the world. Sadly, much of the code remains in place on infected machines, silently lurking in the background. Kryptos Logic is uniquely positioned to know, since they control the kill switch domain and have continued to monitor traffic to it since building the kill switch on it. To this day, their site continues to be pinged by new IP addresses as the now toothless infection continues to spread.

It’s not hard to see why the removal of a piece of malware that has been rendered suddenly toothless takes a lower priority for busy and often harried IT security professionals. Leaving the code in place on infected machines is not without risk, however.

It is possible, however unlikely, that the hackers who built the program to begin with could find a way to get around the kill switch. If that should happen, then we’ll be facing the full fury of the epidemic all over again, something no one in the field of digital security wants to contemplate.

The bottom line is simply this: If you were impacted by Wannacry when the outbreak initially occurred, it’s worth double checking to make sure that all traces of the malicious code are gone from your network.

Crypto Blackmail: How To Protect Yourself

Frank DeLuca is a field technician for Tech Experts.

A criminal contacts you over email or snail mail and insists they have a webcam video of you watching “unsavory” videos or evidence you cheated on your wife.

To stop the release of this compromising information and to make the problem go away, the criminal asks for digital payment in Bitcoin or another form of cryptocurrency.

You should never respond or pay. All the criminals have are empty threats and they’re just trying to trick you.

What is CryptoBlack Mail?

CryptoBlackmail is any sort of threat accompanied by a demand that you pay money to a cryptocurrency address.

Just like traditional blackmail, it’s a “pay up or we’ll do something bad to you” threat. The difference is the demand for payment in online currency rather than traditional hard (and traceable) cash.

Why cryptocurrency? It’s not possible to “undo” a transaction and it’s hard for the authorities to track down the owner of a Bitcoin address.

With cryptocurrency, the money is gone as soon as you send it.

Some examples of CryptoBlackmail:
– Physical mail saying “I know you cheated on your spouse,” and demanding payment in the form of Bitcoin to a specified Bitcoin wallet.

– Emails claiming an attacker has placed malware on your computer and recorded you in a uncompromising position, along with a video feed from your webcam. The attacker also claims to have copied your contacts and threatens to send the video to them unless you pay.

– Emails including a password to one of your online accounts along with a threat and demand for payment to make the problem go away.
The attacker just found your password in one of the many leaked password databases and hasn’t compromised your computer. Keep in mind that the criminals almost certainly cannot follow through on their threat and they probably do not have the information they claim to have. It is simply a numbers game.

For example, someone may just send emails saying “I know you cheated on your spouse” to a large number of people knowing that, statistically, some of them will be tempted to act.

The important thing to note is that this not a personally targeted attack. Unfortunately, the scammers do trick some people, which then perpetuates this ongoing CryptoBlackMail scam as an easy payday for criminals with little to no work involved.

How to Protect Yourself

Ignore the scammers. Delete and forget the scam. Don’t try to negotiate or even respond with the scammer. Don’t pay a single cent.

Don’t re-use passwords. If a criminal sent you one of your passwords, it’s likely that password was from one of many leaked password databases available online.

Change your passwords. If you’re concerned a criminal might have your passwords, you should change them immediately.

Get a password manager. They can help keep track of those unique passwords. They remember passwords for you, letting you use strong, unique passwords everywhere without having to remember them all.

Disable your webcam. If you’re really worried about someone spying on you with malware on your computer, you can just disable your webcam when you aren’t using it.

The most important thing to do — aside from never paying the scammers — is to ensure you aren’t re-using passwords, especially if they’ve already been leaked. Use strong, unique passwords and you won’t have to worry about password leaks. Just change a single password whenever there’s a leak and you are done.

Colorado Company Taken Down By Ransomware And What That Means for Your Business

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

According to Statista, there were 184 million ransomware attacks in 2017 and the average ransomware demand is over $1,000. Individuals, organizations, and companies have fallen victim to these attacks.

Most people recognize the fact that ransomware is a danger, but they may not realize that it can actually destroy their company.

The recent closure of Colorado Timberline after a ransomware attack is a solemn reminder of the seriousness of the dangers of ransomware.

What Happened to Colorado Timberline?
Colorado Timberline, a printing company in Denver, was forced to cease operations for an unspecified amount of time after a severe cyber attack. [Read more…]

The Ransomware Threat Is Growing – Here’s Why

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

One of the biggest problems facing businesses today is ransomware. In 2017, a ransomware attack was launched every 40 seconds and that number has grown exponentially in 2018. What are the main reasons for this type of escalation and why can’t law enforcement or IT experts stop the growing number of cyber-attacks?

Ransomware Trends
One of the reasons involves the latest trends. The art of ransomware is evolving. Hackers are finding new ways to initiate and pull off the cyber-attack successfully.

Hackers rarely get caught. So, you have a crime that pays off financially and no punishment for the crime. The methods of attack expand almost daily. Attack vectors increase with each new breach. If cyber thieves can get just one employee to click on a malicious link, they can take over and control all the data for an entire company. [Read more…]

Ransomware Vs Atlanta: How To Protect Your Systems

Chris Myers is a field service technician for Tech Experts.

On March 22, the local government in the city of Atlanta, Georgia experienced a widespread ransomware cyberattack that affected several city applications and devices.

Ransomware is a type of malware that takes over a computer and locks out the user. The attackers then make contact with the victim and request payment. If the ransom is not paid, they may publish the victim’s personal files and data or just continue to block access to them.

In Atlanta, the attackers gained access to some of the city’s applications through a network vulnerability. Once they had locked the city’s systems with a ransomware known as “SamSam,” they asked for six bitcoins to unlock everything. Six bitcoins are currently worth around $51,000 US dollars.

Atlanta chose not to pay the ransom, as there is no guarantee that they would get their files back and they didn’t want to encourage any similar attacks. Instead, Atlanta officials awarded nearly 2.7 million dollars to eight private companies in the first couple days after the start of the attack.

The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Secret Service have also been assisting city officials in investigating the attack.

As you can see, the consequences of a ransomware attack can be severe. Nearly a month after the breach, nearly all city functions were still being carried out with pen and paper. With that in mind, what are the best ways to prevent them from happening in the first place?

How to protect yourself against similar cyberattacks

Ransomware attacks usually infiltrate organizations through their network. Therefore, maintaining good network security practices is a must. These can include:

Using strong, unique passwords. Both individuals and companies have a tendency to use shared passwords for different programs, even Windows logins.

If someone gains illicit access to your network or a specific computer, they can’t immediately gain access to all of your program logins and computers if you use unique passwords.

Staying vigilant for phishing. Phishing is another common method of attack for gaining entry to install ransomware. 91% of phishing attacks are targeted at specific people in a company, a technique known as spear phishing.

The attacker will study an organization’s email format, then send a simple email to an employee designed to appear as if it is a common email from a co-worker.

Most of these emails will look completely normal except for the full sender email address, which is usually something odd such as “ejhjsh@jk.cn.”

In many email management applications, the full address is automatically hidden behind the given name of the sender, so staff must be trained to interact with that name to confirm the address.

Securing your network. Ensure that a monitored firewall is in place and that all Wi-Fi networks are password protected with WPA2 encryption.

A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is also a very good thing to have, especially if you have any staff working remotely.

Keeping operating systems and firmware up-to-date. Patches for known security vulnerabilities are released quite often.

Most of these are to combat specific new threats that are being used or about to be used in the wild. Staying up-to-date with security and operating system patches shores up your defenses against many common attacks.

Windows 10 Creator’s Fall Update to Bring Hardened Ransomware Protection


Jared Stemeye is a Help Desk Technician at Tech Experts.

2017 has seen some of the most high-profile ransomware and cryptoware attacks to date. These incidents have demonstrated that these types of attacks can have catastrophic effects that reach far beyond the ransom demands paid to these attackers.

The cost of downtime and damage control multiplies quickly. Even more damaging is being impacted because critical infrastructure or health care services are unexpectedly unavailable for extended periods of time, consequently costing much more than any monetary value.

Microsoft has stated that they recognize the threat that these cybercrimes represent and have since invested significant yet simple strategies that are proving to be extremely effective as new attacks emerge. These new security features are now coming to all businesses and consumers using Windows 10 with the Creators Fall Update.

These advanced security features are focusing on three primary objectives:

  1. Protecting your Windows 10 system by strengthening both software and hardware jointly, improving hardware-based security and mitigating vulnerabilities to significantly raise the cost of an attack on Windows 10 systems. Meaning hackers will need to spend a lot of time and money to keep up with these security features.
  2. Recognizing that history has revealed vastly capable and well-funded attackers can find unexpected routes to their objectives. These latest security updates detect and help prevent against these threats with new advances in protection services like Windows Defender Antivirus and Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection.
  3. Enabling customers and security experts to respond to threats that may have impacted them with newly updated tools like Windows Defender ATP. This will provide security operations personnel the tools to act swiftly with completeness of information to remediate an attack that may have impacted them.

Microsoft states this is a proven strategy that has remained 100% successful on Windows 10 S, the new secure version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. Albeit, this version of the operating system does not allow any software from outside the Microsoft App Store to be installed.

Further, Microsoft states that even prior to the fall security updates rolling out, no Windows 10 customers were known to be compromised by the recent WannaCry global cyberattack. Despite this, Microsoft knows that there will always be unforeseeable exploits within their systems.

This is why the Windows 10 Creator’s Fall Update benefits from new security investments to stop malicious code via features like Kernel Control Flow Guard (kCFG) and Arbitrary Code Guard (ACG) for Microsoft Edge. These kinds of investments allow Windows 10 to mitigate potential attacks by targeting the techniques hackers use, instead of reacting to specific threats after they emerge.

Most importantly, Windows Defender security updates coming in this Fall will begin to leverage the power of the cloud and artificial intelligence built on top of the Microsoft Intelligent Security Graph (ISG) to promptly identify new threats, including ransomware, as they are first seen anywhere around the globe.

Though no exact date is set in stone, all of the amazing security updates detailed above will be available this Fall 2017 for free. For more information about the Creator’s Fall update beyond the security features, visit https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/upcoming-features.

Another Major Ransomware On The Loose: Locky

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Ransomware, a virus that essentially holds a computer user’s data hostage for a monetary reward, isn’t a new threat. It is in fact, becoming more prevalent with an estimated 35% increase of attacks in the past year alone.

One of the newest forms of this virus is known as Locky, which finds its way onto unsuspecting users’ devices through vulnerabilities in the Adobe Flash Player. This ransomware was detected by Trend Micro, and the type of operating system used seems to have little effect on risk. Locky has infiltrated systems through Windows, Mac, Chrome, and Linux.

Many of the Locky attacks, however, have affected Windows 10 users who are unknowingly using outdated versions of the Adobe Flash Player. Anyone running the or earlier versions of Flash is at risk of Locky taking over data and holding it hostage for payment.

Therefore, the simplest way for people to protect themselves from this new ransomware is to ensure they are running the most recent version of Flash.

To do this, access Flash content within your browser and right click on it. Then, choose “About Adobe Flash Player” to view which version is being used. Alternatively, users can visit the Adobe website, which can automatically detect the installed version and also offer the option to upgrade to the most current one.

Locky ransomware isn’t just spread through Adobe Flash. It also can find its way onto systems through attachments in spam emails. In this case, the emails have most frequently been distributed through the same botnet responsible for sending out the online banking malware Dridex.

While actual numbers for how many people have fallen prey to Locky infections are not public, security companies have revealed that the majority of the ransomware attacks have taken place in the United States, Japan, and France.

The amount demanded to remove Locky from affected devices is usually around $100, but security experts suggest not giving in to such demands. Instead, victims are advised to create a backup of files and seek help from your IT provider.

The best defense against such attacks, however, is in prevention. Regularly update your operating system and frequently used programs, never open suspicious emails, and only log in as an administrator on your computer system when and as long as you absolutely must to prevent hackers from intercepting your login credentials.

Ransoming Your Business One Step At A Time

When it comes to business security, today’s climate is a careful one. It seems like every week the latest and most dangerous ransomware is coming for us.

These can come through a variety of ways, like employees, clients, and websites. The most recent threat we’ve seen is called Rokku. Built upon predecessors, it’s only the next step in the fight against business security systems. Ransomware is a dangerous thing. The main concept is a mix of fear tactics and file encryption. After the system is infected, the virus will normally lay dormant for a time.

Once every file is found and changed to an encrypted state, a message will display, stating the worst.

All of your files are locked until you pay whatever sum the developers demand. Once in this state, you are generally given only a number of hours before your files and content are deleted permanently.

In this instant, many people will jump up to pay for their files in order to save further expense and headache. Unfortunately, doing so rarely helps the issue.

After the ransom is paid, you are supposedly granted access to the files and everything continues on unhindered. That said, there are many times you can send the money in and receive nothing in return.

Your files will still have their encrypted extensions (e.g. *filename*.rokku) and you will be in an even bigger hole than before. Some of the older encryptions have programs made by third parties to help those infected, but this is also often not the case.

In the Rokku scenario, there is no progress made in decryption. No patterns have been found and files are completely distorted in comparison to their original state.

As if it isn’t already enough, there is still more to worry about. Rokku as well as other ransomwares will not stop at only the infected computer. Network shares are also subject to complete encryption.

In short order, your entire network is no longer your own. With this in mind, the question is simple. What can you do?

Ransomware is definitely a problem and is not going away anytime soon.

That said, there is more progress these days than when we first started seeing it pop up on systems. Using Rokku as an example, some newer versions are built off of older attacks.

As such, they can often follow the same patterns and can be taken care of. Anti-virus and anti-malware services are also more and more proactive against these threats.

User error can, however, still cause alarm and ruin things very quickly. Rokku and many of its predecessors are sent through email attachments. Once opened, they will start to run and everything will spiral downward from there.

It is important to know and keep others informed on basic safety practices when it comes to operating computers. Keep in mind to not trust strange sites, emails, or messages that you were not expecting or do not know the sender. Also, be aware of common spam signs.

Misspellings, exaggerated results, and poor grammar are often giveaways.

If you want to review your current computer climate, we recommend giving us a call. With preventive maintenance, business class protection, corporate antivirus, and monitors running to ensure a steady flow, we can ensure the safety and reliability of any network and the important files that it may contain.

The absolute best way to avoid a disaster such as Rokku and other ransomwares is to stop it before it happens.