Inside CryptoWall 2.0: Ransomware, professional edition

It’s been over a year since the first wave of cryptographic extortion malware hit computers. Since then, an untold number of individuals, small businesses and even local governments have been hit by various versions of malware that holds victims’ files hostage with encryption, demanding payment by Bitcoin or other e-currency in exchange for a key to reverse the damage. And while the early leader, CryptoLocker, was taken down (along with the “Gameover ZeuS” botnet) last June, other improved “ransomware” packages have sprung up to fill its niche—including the sound-alike CryptoWall.

Ransomware is a strange hybrid of digital mugging and commercial-grade coding and “customer service”—in order to continue to be able to generate cash from their malware, the criminal organizations behind them need to be able to process payments and provide victims with a way to get their files back, lest people refuse to pay because of bad word-of-mouth. And to grow their potential market, the extortionists need to find ways to make their “product” work on a wide range of potential target systems. The apex of this combination of crime and commerce is (at least so far) the latest version of CryptoWall—CryptoWall 2.0.

In a blog post this week, researchers Andrea Allievi and Earl Carter of Cisco‘s Talos Group presented a full code dissection of CryptoWall 2.0 and found a few surprises, aside from using a number of different, sophisticated features to attack systems and evade detection before it can strike. And while the malware is 32-bit Windows code to ensure the widest reach possible, it can detect when a 64-bit Windows environment is available and switch some of its functionality to run in full 64-bit native mode—ensuring it can do maximum damage on the most recent Windows client and server platforms.

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