When tech support scams meet Ransomlock

A technical-support phone scam uses Trojan.Ransomlock.AM to lock the user’s computer and trick them into calling a technical help phone number to resolve the issue.

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What’s true for businesses is also true for scams and malware, to remain successful they must evolve and adapt. Sometimes ideas or methods are borrowed from one business model and used in another to create an amalgamation. After all, some of the best creations have come about this way; out of ice-cream and yogurt was born delicious frogurt, and any reputable hunter of the undead will tell you the endless benefits of owning a sledge saw. Cybercriminals responsible for malware and various scams also want their “businesses” to remain successful and every now and again they too borrow ideas from each other. We recently came across an example of this when we discovered a technical-support phone scam that uses a new ransomware variant (Trojan.Ransomlock.AM) that locks the user’s computer and tricks them into calling a phone number to get technical help to resolve the issue.

A game of two halves:


Ransomware can be divided into two main categories: Ransomware that simply locks the compromised computer’s screen (Trojan.Ransomlock), and ransomware that encrypts files found on the compromised computer (Trojan.Ransomcrypt, Trojan.Cryptowall, Trojan.Cryptolocker etc.).

This year we’ve observed a major role reversal in the ransomware landscape with the cryptomalware variants overtaking the ransomlock variants in prevalence. Ransomlock variants may have lost the lead to cryptomalware variants, but they are by no means out of the game and from time-to-time we do observed newcomers that add a fresh twist to the screen-locking business model.

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Figure 1. Top ten ransomware detections as of 11-07-14

Technical support scams

Technical support scams are definitely not new and have been around for quite some time now. In these scams, the crooks cold call random people, often claiming to be a well-known software company, and try to convince them that their computers are full of critical errors or malware. The end goal is to get onto the victim’s computer using a remote-access tool in order to convince users of problems, as well as to entice the victim into buying fake repair tools in order to fix the non-existent problems. The Federal Trade Commission states that this type of scam is one of the fastest growing cyberscams and several high-profile arrests have been made in recent times in a crackdown on the cybercriminals responsible. Technical support scams rely on potential victims being cold called and this can mean a lot of work for the scammers; however, some cybercriminals have now overcome this and have figured out a way to get the victims to call them.

When scams merge

We recently came across Trojan.Ransomlock.AM that, like its predecessors, locks the compromised computer’s screen. The locked screen displays a blue screen of death (BSoD) error message, but this is no ordinary BSoD!

In this BSoD, the message claims that the computer’s health is critical and a problem is detected and it asks the user to call a technical support number.

For the sake of research, we made a call to the number to see just what these crooks are up to.

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Figure 2. Fake BSoD lock screen

According to the support engineer we spoke to, named “Brian,” the technical support company is called “Falcon Technical Support.” Once the number has been called, the scam follows the same modus operandi as most technical support scams; however, the most interesting thing here is the use of ransomware in order to get the user to call the scammers. Once the call has been made, the scammers have everything they need to convince the user their computer is infected with malware…because it is infected with Trojan.Ransomlock.AM.

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Figure 3. The scammers get a bright idea


Trojan.Ransomlock.AM has been observed being distributed and bundled with a grayware installer (detected as Downloader). This installer offers to install grayware applications such as SearchProtect and SpeedUPMyPc.

Upon execution, it installs the grayware as advertised but it also drops another file named preconfig.exe, which is the malware installer (detected as Trojan.Dropper). This second installer adds an entry on the infected computer so that when it restarts it will execute the final payload (diagnostics.exe) which is Trojan.Ransomlock.AM.

Trojan.Ransomlock.AM needs an internet connection to perform its dirty deeds. The malware first needs to send information from the compromised computer to the command-and-control (C&C) server, such as the hostname, IP address, screen resolution, and a random number. In exchange, the C&C server sends back the correct size image file to fit the whole screen. The information collected will also give the crooks a useful jump start when trying to convince the user their computer is in trouble, which other technical support scammers do not have. The malware, stolen information, and BSoD lock screen all help to strengthen the scammers’ social-engineering capabilities.

Fortunately, Trojan.Ransomlock.AM was first seen in September and does not have a high prevalence; however, as with any threat, this can quickly change. According to our telemetry, the threat is currently limited to the United States.

Symantec protection

Trojan.Ransomlock.AM is far from the most complex or resilient ransomware we’ve seen and is in fact very simple. The compromised computer may look locked but users can simply follow these steps to unlock the screen:

  1. Simultaneously press the Ctrl+Alt+Delete keys on the keyboard
  2. Open Task Manager
  3. Search for the malware name (it should be diagnostics.exe) and end the process
  4. When the screen is unlocked, go to the registry editor by clicking on the Start button, then Run, and typing REGEDIT
  5. Delete the registry entry HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionRun"Diagnostics" = "[PATH TO MALWARE]"
  6. You should also delete the file folder from the directory

Users of Symantec products can simply perform a full scan to safely remove Trojan.Ransomlock.AM.

Symantec has the following detections in place to protect against this threat:

Antivirus detections

Symantec advises users to be extra careful when calling or receiving a call from a technical call center. Users should be cautious and always check the company’s identity. If you need assistance with a computer-related issue, contact a reputable bricks-and-mortar computer repair shop or your IT support team if it’s your work computer that is affected. 

Chinese Ransomlock Malware Changes Windows Login Credentials

Although ransomware has become an international problem, we rarely see Chinese versions. Recently, Symantec Security Response noticed a new type of ransomlock malware that not only originates from China but also uses a new ransom technique to force users into paying to have their computers unlocked.

This threat is written in Easy Programming Language and is spread mostly through a popular Chinese instant messaging provider. Once a computer is compromised, the threat changes the login credentials of the current user and restarts the system using the newly created credentials. The login password is changed to “tan123456789” (this was hardcoded in the sample we acquired) but the malware author may update the threat and change the password. The account name is changed to “contact [IM ACCOUNT USER ID] if you want to know the password” (English translation)so that once the computer has restarted, and the user is unable to log in, they will see the account name/message and contact the user ID in order to get the new password.


Figure 1. Login screen with changed account name after system restart

If the victim contacts the provided user ID, who is more than likely the malware author, they will see a statement on the profile page asking for approximately 20 Chinese Yuan (US$3.25). The statement says that the login password will be sent as soon as the money is received and that if the malware author is pestered by the user they will be blocked.

Symantec detects this threat as Trojan.Ransomlock.AF. For users already infected with this threat, there are several ways to restore system access:

  1. Use password “tan123456789” to log into the system and reset the password (as mentioned before, this might not always work as the password may be changed by the malware author)
  2. Use another administrator account to log into the system and reset the password
  3. If your current account is not a super administrator account, enter safe mode and log in as super administrator and then reset the password
  4. Use Windows recovery disk to reset the password

Rendering the Web Red with Redkit

On June 26, we observed an exploit kit attack on the Segway website. Symantec has notified Segway about the attack and Segway has since taken steps to ensure their website is no longer compromised. This blog will look at the details of an attack using the Redkit exploit kit.

Attack details

Code is injected into a jQuery script.

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Figure 1. jQuery script with code injection

The malicious code is present in the jquery.min.js JavaScript.

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Figure 2. Malicious code in jquery.min.js

The injected JavaScript decodes to a malicious iframe, which redirects to a landing page. This also sets up a cookie after the redirection so that users are not compromised more than once.

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Decodes to:

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Figure 3. JavaScript decodes to a malicious iframe

The iframe redirects to a Redkit landing page:

  • [REMOVED]. [REMOVED].co.uk/abcd.html

The landing page loads the Java Network Launch Protocol (JNLP) to call the malicious JAR files. On successful exploitation, the JAR files use “Open Connection” and receives the URL from “param value=” in an obfuscated manner.

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Figure 4. Obfuscated URL received from "param value="

The encoded string resolves to:

  • http://[REMOVED]. [REMOVED].co.uk/19.html

The JNLP script is used to deploy malicious JAR files on user’s computer.

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Figure 5. JNLP script used to deploy malicious JAR files

The URI for the JAR files:

  • http://[REMOVED]. [REMOVED].co.uk/8o.jar

Current JAR file names are two characters long, such as 80.jar, sj.jar, and 7t.jar. These JAR files download an encrypted payload and employ cipher schemes to decrypt it.

The JAR files used in this attack use a Java type confusion vulnerability (CVE-2012-1723)

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Figure 6. Java type confusion being exploited

The cipher scheme used to decode the URL, passed as param through JNLP, is a simple character substitution algorithm.

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Figure 7. Cipher scheme used to decode URL

Several pieces of malware are dropped in this attack:

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Figure 8. Attack scenario


Redkit has been available since early 2012 and still propagates in the same way: Hacked sites with a malicious iframe redirect to the exploit kit landing page, as we have observed in this case, and then plugin detect scripts are used for fingerprinting just like other exploit kits.

Recently, we have observed landing pages with the following URI patterns:

  • [REMOVED]. [REMOVED]/hfiv.htm
  • [REMOVED]. [REMOVED]/hmtg.htm
  • [REMOVED].[REMOVED]/hmtg.htm

Redkit has started deploying JAR files using JNLP script as a plugin to load them. The dropped JAR files have numbered names such as 11.jar or 123.jar. The JAR files are obfuscated and exploit the latest Java vulnerabilities. The payload for these files is encrypted.

Redkit exploits several Java vulnerabilities:

Redkit is known to drop:                                                  

Symantec blocked approximately 150,000 Redkit attacks last month.


Figure 9. Geographical distribution of attacks

North American, European, and USSR regions are the most affected geographical areas. The motive for these attacks is generally compromising users for monetary benefits. Recently, these attacks have targeted organizations in order to steal intellectual property.


The good news is that Symantec provides comprehensive protection for Redkit attacks, and customers with updated intrusion prevention and antivirus signatures are protected. Intrusion Prevention scans all the network traffic that enters and exits your computer and compares this information against a set of attack signatures, protecting users against the most common Internet attacks.

Symantec has the following protection in place to protect customers from this attack:

Intrusion prevention:


New Ransomlock Variant Bypasses Automated Threat Analysis Systems’ Sandboxes

A lot of malware modify themselves to either hide from security software when they copy themselves to the compromised computer or to hinder engineers attempting to analyze the malware by executing the decrypted memory area and reading the decrypted memory value. This blog examines the behavior of Trojans that modify themselves by sharing memory.

The malware process follows the red line in Figure 1.

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Figure 1. Code showing the threat process

Address ebx-4 indicates the top of the .data section. Initially, ebx-4 is a zero so if it is compared to 31h and 32h, it fails.

The code writes 31h to address ebx-4 and the Trojan executes itself by executing the WinExec function with its own file name. It then uses the ExitProcess function to end itself. It appears that the program just executes and quits repeatedly since the value at ebx-4 is always 0 at execution, but it does perform malicious activities. Here’s the trick.

File structure

This file sample has the following .data section structure.

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Figure 2. File structure of the file sample

The characteristic rw- d0000040 is an unusual configuration and has the following settings.

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The memory value is shared because of the IMAGE_SCN_MEM_SHARED setting.

Actual behavior

When the malware runs for the first time, the address ebx-4 is zero so the code writes 31h to the address and executes itself again. When it runs again, because ExitProcess has not yet executed, it shares memory that has 31h at the address.

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Figure 3. Process follows different route when run again

The newly executed program writes 32h at the address and executes itself again. The new program shares memory that has 32h at the address.

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Figure 4. Process reaches decryption routine

Because the address is 32h, it executes the _decrypt function, decrypts encrypted code, and jumps to the esi address. The behavior is shown below in sequential order:

  1. Windows loads the file
  2. The address has 0 as its initial value from the file
  3. Modifies the value to 31h
  4. Executes itself
  5. Windows loads the file image except shared memory; the original file still has 0 on the disk image
  6. The program runs with the value 31h
  7. Exits the first process
  8. Modifies the value to 32h
  9. Executes itself
  10. Windows loads the file image except shared memory the original file still has 0 on disk image. The program reaches to decryption routine and the computer is now compromised
  11. Exits the second executed process


Figure 5. Behavior shown in sequential order

Process behavior in a sandbox

I believe the attacker tried to hide the malicious behavior from automated threat analysis systems. I submitted a sample file to eight websites that host automated threat analysis systems and the following are the results:

  1. ThreatExpert logged the created file, registry modifications, and unexpected network access. Therefore, I recognized the sample behavior and decided that the file is malicious.
  2. Three websites logged that the process executed but nothing else.
  3. The other four websites did not log anything.

It seems that automated threat analysis systems only monitor the red section shown in Figure 5. We often see this type of specialized code to bypass these automated systems.

Symantec will continue to monitor the type of malicious code and the techniques outlined in this blog. We also recommend that users do not run suspicious programs and keep their operating system and antivirus software up to date.