Home Internet Security Detonating Ransomware on My Own Computer (Don’t Try This at Home)

Detonating Ransomware on My Own Computer (Don’t Try This at Home)



This text was written by Topher Tebow, a senior cybersecurity researcher at Acronis with a concentrate on malware monitoring and evaluation.

Headlines of ransomware attacks appear to be a day by day incidence, asserting new ranges of hazard and confusion to the already difficult enterprise of defending knowledge. One such risk is Conti, which is commonly used to focus on healthcare organizations and retailers.

The way it behaves can inform us lot a couple of fashionable ransomware assault – so I just lately detonated Conti ransomware in a managed atmosphere to reveal the significance of correct cyber safety.

Making ready the assault

I used three digital machines on this assault to simulate totally different situations. The primary machine was a clear set up of Home windows with no safety in place. This machine reveals the capabilities of the ransomware. The opposite two machines had both ransomware safety in place to remediate the assault, or URL filtering to forestall the malicious payload from being put in.

Course of Monitor and Course of Explorer from the SysInternals Suite helped me control the ransomware exercise all through the assault. Naturally there are regular processes, but additionally processes spun up by the ransomware, in addition to registry adjustments.

Because the assault vector, I created a pretend malicious e-mail primarily based on a tax-related bill to imitate a typical phishing lure. The e-mail was primarily based on an actual e-mail, so it seemed professional. After a fast replace to the e-mail settings, it even confirmed the corporate title because the sender. I used official logos and colours, however changed the bill particulars with a obtain hyperlink to make sure somebody who is likely to be anticipating such an e-mail would work together with the one I crafted as a substitute of simply viewing it.

The hyperlink used a trusted file sharing service to obtain an “bill” with an embedded Visible Fundamental script that downloads and runs the ransomware mechanically.

Usually a sufferer must allow lively content material earlier than this script will run, so attackers will typically set content material to be hidden till this level. On this case, I deliberate to ransom myself, so I set Phrase to run the content material mechanically. It is a easy setting change, and shouldn’t be neglected as a potential weak level on firm networks.


My assault begins with the ready e-mail being despatched to the “sufferer”, who clicks the hyperlink within the e-mail that downloads a doc from the trusted file sharing service. The Visible Fundamental script runs as quickly because the doc opens, flattening the ransomware and working it mechanically.

A couple of seconds later, the ransomware file may be seen in Course of Explorer as a subprocess of WINWORD.EXE. The Home windows Registry reveals queries from the ransomware, starting with CurrentControlSet entries, earlier than shifting on to restart settings which signifies that Conti is in search of a option to acquire persistence on the system.

The machine begins working slowly because the ransomware encrypts recordsdata. If the consumer doesn’t discover that there’s something incorrect, Conti will proceed to encrypt new recordsdata added to the machine.

From SPAM email to encryption
From SPAM e-mail to encryption

Whereas slower system efficiency is likely to be the primary signal of an issue, there are another indicators. Others embody file extensions change with ‘.ZSSCI’ appended to the file names (although totally different ransomware will use totally different extensions), and the file icons are modified to a clean web page icon as a result of the file sort is now not acknowledged. For Conti and most different fashionable ransomware, a readme.txt file is positioned in any listing the place recordsdata have been encrypted.

The readme.txt file is the ransom observe informing the sufferer of the assault, and offering cost directions. Gone are the times of flashy ransom notes that change the desktop background or net pages opened with a scary message and plenty of unhealthy gif photos. Right here we see {that a} .onion tackle is used to contact the attacker, which requires using a Tor browser, with an HTTPS different on the clear net.

The attacker additionally threatens to publish stolen knowledge if ignored, within the spirit of the double-extortion strategies being employed by the vast majority of ransomware gangs as of late.

Conti ransom note
Conti ransom observe

Necessity is the mom of invention

At this level, there are few methods to get your knowledge again. You possibly can pay the ransom and hope the decryption key works, restore from clear backups when you’ve got them, or discover a time machine. As a substitute of funding criminals, shutting down throughout a restoration interval, or inventing time journey, there are real looking methods to keep away from changing into a sufferer.

Since no single method can resolve each downside, a multi-layered answer would be the simplest option to preserve your knowledge protected from this sort of assault.

Organizations have stepped up their phishing coaching lately, which is a improbable first step. Sadly, even essentially the most well-trained people may be fooled by a well-crafted assault. It’s due to this fact crucial to have instruments applied to forestall the assault. Let’s check out what occurs with safety in place.

With ransomware safety in place, the assault began out wanting similar to the assault on the unprotected system – up to a degree. Conti nonetheless ran, accessed the registry, and started encrypting recordsdata. However then Conti instantly closed and the Phrase doc opens safely.

The distinction this time was that the file entropy was being monitored and the software program stopped the processes began up by Conti after solely eight recordsdata have been encrypted. The ransomware safety software program mechanically restored the encrypted from cached copies that have been generated when the encryption started, saving the effort and downtime related to restoring from backups.

Acronis Cyber Protect detecting malware
Acronis Cyber Shield detecting malware

In fact, stopping the assault earlier than a payload is put in is at all times a most well-liked possibility. A complicated e-mail safety answer can forestall malicious emails from reaching your end-users, whereas a correct URL filter blocks entry to identified malicious URLs the place payloads are be downloaded from.

Irrespective of how difficult it’s to guard a company’s knowledge, simulating an assault reveals us that not all hope is misplaced. By means of training, planning, and diligence, we are able to combat off these assaults by recognizing the indicators of a potential assault, and implementing multi-layered options to automate the detection and response to assaults that come our means.

Begin constructing your individual multilayered safety plan with the distinctive integration of backup, catastrophe restoration, cybersecurity, and endpoint administration in Acronis Cyber Protect.

Topher Tebow is a senior cybersecurity researcher at Acronis with a concentrate on malware monitoring and evaluation. Topher spent practically a decade combating web-based malware earlier than shifting into endpoint safety. He has written technical content material for a number of corporations, protecting subjects from safety developments and finest practices, to the evaluation of malware and vulnerabilities.

Along with being printed in trade publications like Cyber Protection Journal and Safety Boulevard, Topher has contributed to articles by a number of main publications.

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