Friday, June 25, 2021

What We Know About The Ransomware Economy

Okay, I think that we can all admit that ransomware has consumed the news cycle of late, thanks to high visibility attacks such as Colonial Pipeline and JBS. Interestingly enough, there wasn't this sort of reaction the second time the City of Baltimore got attacked, which (IMHO) belies the news cycle more than anything else.

However, while the focus is on ransomware, for the moment, it's a good time to point out that there's more to this than just the attacks that get blasted across news feeds. That is, ransomware itself is an economy, an eco-system, which is a moniker that goes a long way to toward describing why victims of these attacks are impacted to the extent that they are. What I mean by this is that everything...EVERYTHING...about what goes into a ransomware attack is directed at the final goal of the threat actor...someone...getting paid. What goes further to making this an eco-system is that when a ransomware attack does result in the threat actor getting paid, there are also others in the supply chain (see what I did there??) who are also getting paid.

I was reading Unit42's write-up on the Prometheus ransomware recently, and I have to say, a couple of things really stood out for me, one being the possible identification of a "false flag". The Prometheus group apparently made a claim that is unsupported by the data Unit42 has observed. Even keeping collection bias in mind, this is still very interesting. What would be the purpose of such a "false flag"? Does it tell use that the Prometheus group has insight into the workings of most counter threat intel (CTI) functions; have they "seen" CTI write-ups and developed their own version of the MITRE ATT&CK matrix?

Regardless of the reason or rationale behind the statement, Unit42 is...wait for it...relying on their data.  Imagine that!

Another thing that stood out is the situational awareness of the ransomware developer.

When Prometheus ransomware is executed, it tries to kill several backups and security software-related processes, such as Raccine...

Well, per the article, this is part of the ransomware itself, and not something the threat actors appear to be doing themselves. Being part of more than a few ransomware investigations over the years, relying on both EDR telemetry and #DFIR data, I've seen different levels of situational awareness on the part of threat actors. In some cases where the EDR tool blocks a threat actor's commands, I've seen them either give up, or disable or remove AV tools. In some cases, the threat actor has removed AV tools prior to performing a query, so the question becomes, was that tool even installed on the system?

This does, however, speak to how the barrier for entry has been lowered; that is, a far less sophisticated actor is able to be just as effective, or more so. Rather than having to know and manage all the parts of the "business", rather than having to invest in the resources required to gain access, navigate the compromised infrastructure, and then develop and deploy can just buy those things that you need. Just like the supply chain of a 'normal' business. Say that you want to start a business that's going to provide products to people...are you going to build your own shipping fleet, or are you going to use a commercial shipper (DHL, FedEx, UPS, etc.)?

Further, from the article:

At the time of writing, we don’t have information on how Prometheus ransomware is being delivered, but threat actors are known for buying access to certain networks, brute-forcing credentials or spear phishing for initial access.

This is not unusual. This write-up appears to be based primarily on OSINT, and does not seem to be derived from actual intrusion data or intelligence. The commands listed in the article for disabling Raccine are reportedly embedded in the ransomware executable itself, and not something derived from EDR telemetry, nor DFIR analysis. So what this is saying is that threat actors generally gain access by brute-forcing credentials (or purchasing them), or spear phishing, or by purchasing access from someone who's done either of the first two.

Again, this speaks to how the barrier for entry has been lowered.  Why put the effort into gaining access yourself when you can just purchase access someone else has already established?  

We’ve compiled this report to shed light into the threat posed by the emergence of new ransomware gangs like Prometheus, which are able to quickly scale up new operations by embracing the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model, in which they procure ransomware code, infrastructure and access to compromised networks from outside providers. The RaaS model has lowered the barrier to entry for ransomware gangs.

Purchasing access to compromised computer systems...or compromising computer systems for the purpose of monetizing that nothing new. Let's look back 15+ years to when Brian Krebs interviewed a botherder known as "0x80". This was an in-person interview with a purveyor of access to compromised systems, which is just part of the eco-system. Since then, the whole thing has clearly been "improved upon".

This just affirms that, like many businesses, the ransomware economy, the eco-system, has a supply chain. This not only means that there are specializations within that supply chain, and that the barrier to entry is lowered, it also means that attribution of these cybercrimes is going to become much more difficult, and possibly tenuous, at best.

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