March 14, 2016

Malware

Is a unwanted software that gets installed on your computer or mobile device without your consent. These programs can cause your device to crash, and can be used to monitor and control your online activity. They also can make your computer vulnerable to viruses and deliver unwanted or inappropriate ads. Malware is defined by its malicious intent, acting against the requirements of the computer user, and does not include software that causes unintentional harm due to some deficiency. The term badware is sometimes used, and applied to both true (malicious) malware and unintentionally harmful software.

Malware may be stealthy, intended to steal information or spy on computer users for an extended period without their knowledge, as for example Regin, or it may be designed to cause harm, often as sabotage (e.g., Stuxnet), or to extort payment (CryptoLocker). ‘Malware’ is an umbrella term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software, including computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware, and other malicious programs.

CryptoLocker

CryptoLocker is a new family of ransomware whose business model (yes, malware is a business to some!) is based on extorting money from users. This continues the trend started by another infamous piece of malware which also extorts its victims, the so-called ‘Police Virus’, which asks users to pay a ‘fine’ to unlock their computers. However, unlike the Police Virus, CryptoLocker hijacks users’ documents and asks them to pay a ransom (with a time limit to send the payment).

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Malware installation

CryptoLocker uses social engineering techniques to trick the user into running it. More specifically, the victim receives an email with a password-protected ZIP file purporting to be from a logistics company.

The Trojan gets run when the user opens the attached ZIP file, by entering the password included in the message, and attempts to open the PDF it contains. CryptoLocker takes advantage of Windows’ default behavior of hiding the extension from file names to disguise the real .EXE extension of the malicious file.

As soon as the victim runs it, the Trojan goes memory resident on the computer and takes the following actions:

  • Saves itself to a folder in the user’s profile (AppData, LocalAppData).
  • Adds a key to the registry to make sure it runs every time the computer starts up.
  • Spawns two processes of itself: One is the main process, whereas the other aims to protect the main process against termination.

File encryption

The Trojan generates a random symmetric key for each file it encrypts, and encrypts the file’s content with the AES algorithm, using that key. Then, it encrypts the random key using an asymmetric public-private key encryption algorithm (RSA) and keys of over 1024 bits (we’ve seen samples that used 2048-bit keys), and adds it to the encrypted file. This way, the Trojan makes sure that only the owner of the private RSA key can obtain the random key used to encrypt the file. Also, as the computer files are overwritten, it is impossible to retrieve them using forensic methods.

When the Trojan finishes encrypting every file, displays a message asking the user to make a ransom payment, with a time limit to send the payment before the private key kept by the malware writer is destroyed.

How to avoid CryptoLocker

This malware spreads via email by using social engineering techniques. Therefore, our recommendation are:

  • Being particularly wary of emails from senders you don’t know, especially those with attached files.
  • Disabling hidden file extensions in Windows will also help recognize this type of attack.
  • Backup your systems.
  • If you become infected and don’t have a backup copy of your files, our recommendation is not to pay the ransom. That’s NEVER a good solution, as it turns the malware into a highly profitable business model and will contribute to the flourishing of this type of attack.

Does your company have a real backup Solution?

We’d like to remind you of the importance of having a backup system in place for your critical files. This will help mitigate the damage caused not only by malware infections, but hardware problems or any other incidents as well.

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Downloadable Case Studies:

Hospitality  pdf-iconCryptoLocker