Blog posts, webinars, and guides exploring ransomware prevention tips and platform capabilities against these attacks.

Unmasking the Top Ransomware Groups of 2023

Over the past year, the digital landscape has been a battleground for attacks cybersecurity threats, creating a sense of vulnerability and urgency for organizations. Adlumin’s dedicated threat research and Managed Detection and Response (MDR) teams have been at the forefront of detecting and combating these threats, witnessing firsthand the havoc they have wreaked across countless sectors.  

With ransomware groups and adversaries still on the rise and continually refining their techniques, organizations must remain vigilant and prepared for the malicious activities that lie ahead.  

As we enter the new year, we are shedding light on the top ransomware groups and emerging threats that demand our attention and resilience. 

Ransomware Group Spotlights 

BianLian   

BianLian is a versatile cybercriminal group that has expanded its tactics beyond ransomware attacks. They employ advanced techniques such as customized malware, targeted phishing, and zero-day exploit usage. The group’s expertise is in evading antivirus systems and exploiting unknown software vulnerabilities. 

The BianLian group is a serious threat and is an example of a ransomware group targeting organizations hoping to receive big payouts. 

Read Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights 2023: Volume IV to learn more about two emerging threat actors and three critical vulnerabilities.  

CL0p 

Cl0p, also known as Clop, TA505, and FIN11, is a notorious ransomware group that is known for its advanced tactics and operations. They employ a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model and utilize the double-extortion data disclosure tactic. Their motivation is financial gain through extorting organizations by encrypting their data and demanding ransom payments in exchange for its release. 

Cl0p first emerged in 2019 as a variant of CryptoMix malware distributed through a large-scale phishing campaign. Over time, they have evolved into one of the most sophisticated and effective ransomware groups, frequently exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities to target and compromise numerous systems across the globe. 

Read more about the CL0P ransomware group, trends, and developments in Adlumin’s Threat Insights 2023: Volume II

LockBit 

LockBit is a ransomware group that operates as a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) model. They provide other cybercriminals, known as “affiliates,” with their ransomware tools to spread and infect victims’ systems. LockBit’s main motivation is financial gain through extortion. They target organizations, particularly in professional services like manufacturing, construction, and technology, by accessing their networks and encrypting their data.  

A ransom payment is demanded in exchange for the decryption key, threatening to leak the stolen data if the ransom is not paid. LockBit’s focus is mainly on small to medium-sized companies. However, they have also targeted larger organizations with victims in North and South America, with no clear regional pattern in targeting.  

Adlumin’s Threat Insights: Volume I give an in-depth analysis of the latest trends and an overview of the effects and recovery from recent ransomware attacks.  

Akira Ransomware 

Akira ransomware is a relatively new malware that emerged in March 2023. The threat actors behind Akira ransomware employ various tactics, such as phishing campaigns and exploiting vulnerabilities in remote monitoring and management software, remote desktop protocol, and other remote access tools. They have also been reported to exploit vulnerabilities and compromised credentials in Cisco virtual private network (VPN) products. 

The motivation of Akira ransomware threat actors is believed to be financial gain. Like most ransomware groups, they encrypt the victim’s files and demand ransom. These ransom payments are typically made in cryptocurrencies, making tracing and identifying the perpetrators harder. 

Read more about Akira Ransomware and the examination from Adlumin’s threat research team in A Threat Actor’s Playbook: Behind the Scenes of Akira Ransomware

PlayCrypt 

Play ransomware has been a significant threat since its emergence in 2022, targeting numerous companies and government entities worldwide. This development of PlayCrypt being sold as a service means that PlayCrypt is now accessible to affiliates, essentially allowing a wider range of actors to launch highly effective attacks using this Russia-linked ransomware.  

Affiliates could include skilled cybercriminals, less experienced “script kiddies,” and individuals with varying levels of expertise. This expansion may lead to a substantial increase in the frequency of attacks using Play ransomware. 

Learn more about how Adlumin uncovered evidence that Play ransomware (PlayCrypt) is also being sold “as a service” in PlayCrypt Ransomware-as-a-Service Expands Threat from Script Kiddies and Sophisticated Attackers

Top Industry-Specific Threat Spotlights   

Legal Industry: Phishing 

Phishing attacks have emerged as one of the legal industry’s top cybersecurity threats. These attacks target lawyers and law firms by deceiving individuals into revealing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and financial details. Given the substantial amount of valuable and confidential data law firms handle, they have become prime targets for cybercriminals. 

Phishing attacks in the legal industry often take the form of scam emails, mimicking trusted sources like IT service providers, law enforcement agencies, or other professionals with whom lawyers regularly interact. These emails typically employ social engineering tactics to create urgency or manipulate emotions, tricking recipients into clicking on malicious links or downloading malware-infected attachments. 

Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights Legal Edition report details top threats and access methods the legal industry faces.  

Financial Industry: Credential Harvesting 

Financial institutions are particularly vulnerable to credential harvesting attacks because they deal with large volumes of sensitive customer information and transactions. If cybercriminals successfully harvest credentials from bank customers, they can gain direct access to their accounts, potentially leading to financial losses for the customers and the institution.  

These attacks typically start with creating fake websites that closely resemble legitimate banking or investment websites. These fake websites often utilize convincing branding, formatting, and domain names almost identical to the targeted companies. This mimicry is intended to deceive users into thinking they are logging into their actual financial accounts. 

Read more about top threats and access methods the financial industry faces in Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights Financial Edition report.  

 Education Industry: Double Extortion 

Double extortion ransomware has emerged as one of the biggest cybersecurity threats to the education sector. Cybercriminals employ this dangerous tactic to maximize their chances of profiting from malicious activities. Double extortion takes the already damaging effects of ransomware attacks to a whole new level. 

In a traditional ransomware attack, cybercriminals encrypt the victim’s data, rendering it inaccessible until a ransom is paid. However, double extortion ransomware goes a step further. Instead of relying solely on encryption to extort money, cybercriminals also threaten to publicly expose or release the stolen data unless the ransom is paid. 

Read more about how double extortion affects the education industry and mitigation strategies in Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights Education Edition report.  

How Can You Stay Protected? 

Organizations must prioritize their cybersecurity and take proactive measures to protect their sensitive data and networks. Adlumin’s Managed Detection and Response (MDR) service provides a solution to address the growing threat of ransomware and other cyber attacks.  

Here are a few recommendations from Adlumin’s Threat Research Team 

  • Third-party risk management programs should be implemented to assess and monitor the security of vendors and suppliers, and to ensure they are adhering to the same security standards as the financial institution. 
  • Implement application controls to manage and control the execution of software, including allowlisting access programs. 
  • Adopting Zero Trust Architecture, developing and implementing a Zero Trust security architecture and model for your organization can dramatically reduce the risk of unauthorized access and lateral movement within networks. This involves verifying every user and device, regardless of location.  
  • Multi-factor authentication should be implemented where possible to prevent unauthorized access if credentials are stolen. 
  • All employees should be regularly trained in essential cybersecurity best practices, including social engineering identification, phishing, password security, re-use threats, and good browsing hygiene.   

Adlumin’s Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Services combines advanced threat detection capabilities with a team of dedicated experts who monitor and respond to suspicious activities around-the-clock. By incorporating machine learning and AI, Adlumin can quickly detect and respond to potential threats before they cause significant damage. In addition to consistently monitoring ransomware groups’ latest trends and tactics, enabling organizations to stay ahead of their attackers. 

Take the Tour

Discover how Adlumin’s Security Operations Platform paired with MDR Services empowers your team to effectively detect and respond to threats and lightens your team’s workload. Take the platform tour and elevate your organization’s visibility to new heights. 

Adlumin’s Threat Insights: Latest Adversaries and Vulnerabilities

Adlumin’s quarterly threat insights focus on rising risks and vulnerabilities affecting businesses. With cyberattacks becoming increasingly prevalent, organizations of all sizes are at risk. Last year, around 76% of organizations were targeted by ransomware, emphasizing the urgent need for businesses to prioritize cybersecurity measures.

Adlumin’s latest report aims to provide insights by examining cyber threats, tactics, and procedures utilized by threat actors, identifying targeted industries and fresh avenues for infiltration, and offering an understanding of the methods employed by these malicious actors. Understanding the tactics and procedures employed by threat actors is crucial in mitigating these risks and safeguarding organizations.

By downloading  Adlumin’s Threat Insights 2023: Volume IV you will gain valuable insights into the latest trends and developments and actionable recommendations to enhance your proactive defense strategies and mitigate cyberattack risks.

Don’t wait until it’s too late – take the necessary steps to protect your enterprise network.

PlayCrypt Ransomware-as-a-Service Expands Threat from Script Kiddies and Sophisticated Attackers

Key Takeaways

  • Adlumin uncovered evidence that Play ransomware (also known as PlayCrypt) is now being sold “as a service.” Play ransomware has been responsible for attacks on companies and government organizations worldwide since it was first discovered in 2022. Making it available to affiliates that might include sophisticated hackers, less-sophisticated “script kiddies” and various levels of expertise in between, could dramatically increase the volume of attacks using the highly successful, Russia-linked Play ransomware.
  • In recent months, Adlumin has identified and stopped PlayCrypt attacks that had nearly identical tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). The unusual lack of even small variations between attacks suggests that they are being carried out by affiliates who have purchased the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) and are following step-by-step instructions from playbooks delivered with it.
  • Based on the attacks Adlumin has witnessed, small and mid-sized organizations are being targeted and are especially at risk. However, ransomware delivered as a service can often be easier to detect because of the common methods used to deploy it. Security teams should watch for indicators of compromise (IOCs) including malicious IP addresses, domains, TOR addresses, emails, hashes and executables, including the ones identified in the article below.

The Patterns

Play, also known as “PlayCrypt,” was discovered last summer disrupting government agencies in Latin America.  Months later threat actors began using it for targets in the U.S. and Europe. Play, like most ransomware today, employs double-extortion tactics, stealing victim data before encrypting their networks.

Since August, the Adlumin MDR team has tracked separate Play ransomware attacks in different industries. In the attacks Adlumin observed, threat actors used the same tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) and followed the same order of steps — almost identically. Furthermore, the indicators of compromise (IOCs) for both incidents were almost indistinguishable.

One of those IOCs includes threat actors using the public music folder (C:\…\public\music) to hide malicious files. Another was using almost the same password to create high privilege accounts. And, in both attacks, many of the same commands were observed.

This high level of consistency in methods used by threat actors is telling. First, it highly suggests reliance on playbooks or step-by-step instructions supplied with RaaS kits. And second, the targeted victims shared a common profile; they were smaller organizations that possessed the financial capacity to entertain ransoms reaching or exceeding $1 million.

The RaaS Kit Market

Purchasing RaaS kits is not difficult, it simply requires a TOR connection and membership to the right dark net forum or market. Once there, a highly experienced threat actor, or even a “script kiddie,” can browse RaaS advertisements.

Below are two ads that Adlumin acquired from RaaS operators peddling their products in the dark web.

Other ransomware ads obtained included those that offered “set-up assistance” “for as low was $200,” and those with “no fees.” Adlumin also observed advertisements offering full builds from $300 to $1100 “ready for deployment.”

One of the ads described the malware being offered as using “many cutting-edge evasion techniques including proprietary methods.”

And in some ads, RaaS operators boasted having ransomware kits for targeting MacOS systems.

“We have developed a new MacOS ransomware as we noticed a lack of it,” the ad read.

At least one post, stated that the ransomware for sale was what “the cool kids are using,” alluding that someone doesn’t have to be “cool” – or perhaps, highly skilled – to purchase and use it.

Easy Enough for a Script Kiddie

Script kiddies are individuals who possess fundamental hacking skills and the knowledge to deploy and execute exploits written by experienced threat actors. They’re able to learn new skills easily and eventually, often become “real hackers” themselves.

Since 2015, researchers have written about the ability script kiddies have for deploying ransomware and often working side-by-side with well-known threat actor organizations.

In March 2022, police in the UK arrested members of the Lapsus$ cybercriminal group known for targeting tech companies such as Okta, Nvidia, Samsung, and Microsoft. The raid included the arrest of teenagers and young adults with ages ranging from 13 to 21, according to the BBC.  It’s not clear, however, if the youngsters were script kiddies simply due to their age.

With enough documentation and technical support – and with generative AI tools now being able to assist them as well – a script kiddie can be more than capable of carrying out an attack. However, attacks by these less-skilled individuals often include a higher degree of basic mistakes that make them easier for an organization with capable cybersecurity operation to stop.

For example, Adlumin has observed ransomware attacks foiled by its security operations platform or its MDR team during an attack’s early stages. In some cases, threat actors don’t even get the chance to encrypt files. There are also incidents where SOAR actions within the Adlumin platform disable accounts created by threat actors, effectively locking them out from the network. Sometimes attacks are carried out, but no data is exfiltrated.  

Money to be Made

Ransomware attacks are very lucrative, especially since 73% of companies attacked pay the ransom. And with double extortion becoming the norm, organizations that don’t pay are publicly shamed by RaaS operators on the clear or dark web.

For script kiddies of any age, ransomware may seem like a great way to make a living and become rich quickly. Also, with high unemployment rates in many countries in Latin America and other parts of the world, cybercrime may be seductive for underemployed or poorly paid computer programmers, or people in similar careers. According to DevelopmentAid.org, “[Poor countries] serve as training grounds for criminal groups in preparation for more ambitious attacks in developed countries.”

When RaaS operators advertise ransomware kits that come with everything a hacker will need, including documentation, forums, technical support, and ransom negotiation support, script kiddies will be tempted to try their luck and put their skills to use. And since there are probably more script kiddies than “real hackers” today, businesses and authorities should take note and prepare for a growing wave of incidents.

Breadcrumbs

IOCs, such as malicious IP addresses, domains, TOR addresses, emails, hashes, executables, and others discovered from an attack can be very useful to analysts, researchers, and law enforcement. They serve as clues to help put together what transpired during the incident and how. They can also offer some insight about the level of sophistication of the attackers.

When threat actors follow RaaS-provided playbooks, they will likely adhere to them closely on the first few attacks. They’ll make mistakes, and if those mistakes are big enough, they could serve as breadcrumbs for the authorities to follow.

Anything an attacker does in a network can help authorities if they are contacted after an incident. This is why investigators request that victims share any IOCs that could help with their investigations. Even if a business pays the ransom, details like Bitcoin or Monero addresses and transaction IDs, communication or chat logs with threat actors, the decryptor file, and a sample of an encrypted file can be very useful.

If a newbie or script kiddie isn’t meticulous with their work, the FBI could soon be knocking on their door.Conclusion

Ransomware attacks continue to be among the most prevalent cyber threats and increased by 37% in 2023. Companies should expect more ransomware attacks in the future, not less. And if more novice attackers are finding that ransomware attacks can be carried out easily with the help and support provided by RaaS operators, they’ll continue to frequent dark net forums to join the most inviting ransomware affiliate group.

At the same time, novice attackers are more likely to make mistakes since they are not as experienced, potentially leaving behind significant IOCs that the authorities can use to help track and apprehend them.

The Adlumin MDR Team will continue to monitor and stop ransomware attacks carried out by newbies and experts alike. Our security operations platform’s SOAR actions have been successful at foiling these attacks in their early stages, stopping cybercriminals on their tracks.

Furthermore, Adlumin now offers Total Ransomware Defense (TRD), a service specifically designed to detect ransomware activity and stop it. In the unfortunate case that files are encrypted, TRD is able to generate decryption keys to restore systems and networks.

Indicators of Compromise (IOCs)

 Usernames

  • admon
  • daksj
  • admin

Objects

  • exe
  • zip.json.PLAY
  • exe
  • exe
  • PLAY
  • exe
  • ini.PLAY
  • aut
  • omaticDestinations-
  • PLAY
  • exe
  • json.PLAY
  • cdp.PLAY
  • HeartBea
  • updatestore51b519d5-b6f5-4333-8df6-e74d7c9aead4.xml.PLAY
  • exe
  • cookie.PLAY
  • js.PLAY
  • exe

Paths

C:\\Users\\Public\\Music

\\Device\\HarddiskVolume3\\CollectGuestLogsTemp

Hash: null

C:\\Users\\Public\\Music

Hash:

b042bc03144919c0fed9d60c1f68eb04ed7

2c2f6

C:\\windows

Hash:

51d3d661774cc50bb22e62beafc4bc6029d

f2392

\\Device\\HarddiskVolume2\\Users\\it.ad

min\\AppData\\Local\\Google\\Chrome\\

User Data\\Default\\Cache\\Cache_Data

Hash: null

C:\\Windows

Hash:

51d3d661774cc50bb22e62beafc4bc6029d

f2392

\\Device\\Mup\\10.20.0.15\\C$\\$Recycl

e.Bin\\S-1-5-21-3568089881-786281157-

4253494709-1103

Hash: null

\\Device\\HarddiskVolume2\\Users\\AAD

_00864e0326c2\\AppData\\Roaming\\Mi

crosoft\\Windows\\Recent\\AutomaticDe

stinations

Hash: null

C:\\Users\\Public\\Music

Hash:

b042bc03144919c0fed9d60c1f68eb04ed7

2c2f6

\\Device\\Mup\\10.20.0.15\\C$\\Users\\

administrator\\AppData\\Local\\ConnectedDevicesPlatform

Hash: null

\\Device\\Mup\\10.20.0.15\\C$\\Package

s\\Plugins\\Microsoft.EnterpriseCloud.Mo

nitoring.MicrosoftMonitoringAgent\\1.0.1

8067.0\\Status

Hash: null

\\Device\\HarddiskVolume2\\ProgramDat

a\\USOPrivate\\UpdateStore

Hash: null

C:\\Users\\Public\\Music

Hash:

b042bc03144919c0fed9d60c1f68eb04ed7

2c2f6

\\Device\\HarddiskVolume2\\Users\\it.ad

min\\AppData\\Local\\Microsoft\\Windo

ws\\INetCookies

Hash: null

\\Device\\HarddiskVolume4\\Program

Files\\Microsoft Monitoring

Agent\\Agent\\APMDOTNETCollector\\W

eb\\Scripts\\V7.0\\js

Hash: null

C:\\PerfLogs

Hash:

b042bc03144919c0fed9d60c1f68eb04ed7

2c2f6

Inside the Mind of a Ransomware Gang

Inside the Mind of a Ransomware Gang

Many do not realize that most ransomware gangs operate as fully functional businesses that seek out unconventional buyers for your organization’s data. From having a help desk to offering services to free organization’s from losing data, they attempt to do business like any Fortune 500 company, and no organization is safe. Join us here at Adlumin as we take you through a ransomware gang’s mind to explore the thoughts and motives behind their attack and learn how to best prepare your organization.

A Threat Actor’s Playbook: 2023 Cyberattacks on Caesars Entertainment and MGM Casinos

By: Max Bernal, Technical Content Writer, and Adlumin’s Threat Research Team

A Threat Actor’s Playbook: 2023 Cyberattacks on Caesars Entertainment and MGM Casinos is a part of Adlumin’s Threat Bulletin Series content series.

In early September 2023, Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas experienced a major cyberattack. The threat actors used a combination of social engineering tactics and ransomware to breach the casino’s networks and steal sensitive data. On September 10, another gambling conglomerate, MGM Resorts International, experienced a cyberattack by threat actors in the ALPHV ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group. The two attacks cost the casinos millions of dollars in losses.

Caesars Entertainment Cyberattack

Caesars Entertainment’s SEC filing on September 7, 2023, stated that it had suffered a social engineering attack “on an outsourced IT support vendor used by the company.” The exact date of the cyberattack was not disclosed, nor who carried out the assault.

In the filing, Caesars also stated that the cyberattack did not impact customer-facing operations like slot machines, guest services, and other services but that among the data stolen, the threat actor(s) had acquired a copy of the loyalty program database, which included member driver’s license and Social Security numbers.

Caesars also disclosed that it had taken steps to “ensure that the stolen data [was] deleted,” alluding that it had paid a ransom. Numerous news outlets, including Bloomberg, reported that the company paid “tens of millions of dollars.”1 Other news outlets, including CNBC, reported that Caesars paid $15 million.2

The company did not provide specific details on how the social engineering attack was carried out or identify the cybercriminal(s) by name. However, numerous news reports published statements from sources “familiar with the matter” that pinned the attacks on a hacker group called Scattered Spider, also known as “Scattered Swine,” “Muddled Libra,” and UNC3944 (by Mandiant), which is likely affiliated with the ransomware group, ALPHV.

The threat actor group is known for its sophisticated social engineering techniques and the ability to target and bypass Okta login security services.

MGM Resorts International Cyberattack

On September 12, 2023, MGM Resorts International issued a statement via PR Newswire stating that it had “identified a cybersecurity issue affecting the company’s systems.”3 MGM also stated that it had notified law enforcement to help protect networks and data, including by “shutting down certain systems.”

According to the Associated Press, MGM began experiencing disruptions on Sunday, September 10,4 and its reservations website was down that day. Soon after, numerous other media outlets reported that slot machines were out-of-service or were displaying errors across MGM-owned casinos, including at the MGM Grand, Bellagio, Aria, Mandalay Bay, Delano, Cosmopolitan, New York-New York, Excalibur, and Luxor. In addition, it was reported that thousands of guests had to wait in long lines for hotel check-ins and that credit card point of sales systems were down, forcing guests to pay cash.5

However, some of the same news outlets published statements from unvetted sources citing that the attack on MGM was carried out by the “same threat actors” that attacked Caesars Entertainment, Scatted Spider. On September 14, the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group ALPHV issued a rare statement claiming sole responsibility for the attack and condemned news media and cybersecurity firms for publishing “false” and “unsupported” details on the attack.

“The ALPHV ransomware group has not before privately or publicly claimed responsibility for an attack before this point. Rumors were leaked from MGM Resorts International by unhappy employees or outside cybersecurity experts prior to this disclosure. Based on unverified disclosures, news outlets decided to falsely claim that we had claimed responsibility for the attack before we had,” part of the statement read. “Tech Crunch & others: neither you nor anybody else was contacted by the hacker who took control of MGM. Next time, verify your sources more thoroughly, or at the very least, give some hint that you do.” 

In an earlier version of the statement, ALPHV had also distanced itself from the Twitter/X account, “vx-underground,” which had published a post on September 12 stating that the attack was carried out by looking up employee information on LinkedIn and that a 10-minute phone call to the company’s help desk was all it took to “defeat” the multi-million-dollar company.

Numerous news media erroneously believed the threat actors had published the post to explain how they gained access to the MGM networks and used it in their reporting.  


1. Screen capture of the 9/12/2023 post published by vx-underground.

At some point, ALPHV removed the reference to “vx-underground” and issued another update:

“As of September 16, 2023, we have not spoken with journalists, news organizations, Twitter/X users, or anyone else. Any official updates are only available on this blog. You would think that after the tweet below, people would know better than to believe anything unreliable they would hear about this incident. If we talk to a reporter, we will share it here. We did not and most likely won’t,” ALPHV wrote.

The Adlumin Threat Research Team cannot confirm what tactics ALPHV used to break into MGM servers nor provide more details on the attack until MGM discloses what transpired.

According to ALPHV’s statement, the group was able to deploy ransomware once inside MGM’s network, encrypting about 100 ESXi hypervisors at the onset of the attack. The group also alluded to targeting the casino’s Okta services.

MGM operations resumed normal customer-facing operations on September 20. According to news reports, MGM lost about $8 million each day its servers were down, which adds up to $40 million.6

Adlumin contacted MGM for more details on the attack, but the company only referred us to their original September 12 statement.

Recommendations

How to Protect Yourself from Social Engineering

Verify

In Caesars Entertainment’s case, a simple vishing tactic, where a cybercriminal attempts to obtain information via phone call, was used to impersonate a legitimate employee and request a password reset. How? While the exact details are still unclear, we can surmise that personally identifiable information (PII) was obtained by the threat actors and used to reset an account.

An organization’s IT or cybersecurity department should verify an individual’s identity using information that cannot be found on social platforms, such as a unique company-issued ID, and not just a full name and date of birth, for example. If the individual calling can provide you with all the correct information, you may need to think outside the box; what are the circumstances surrounding this issue? Is the caller experiencing the issue they’re asking about? For example, if the caller asks for a password reset due to an ‘account lockout,’ you should verify that the account is locked out before proceeding with assistance. Most organizations have a form of internal communications platform used for employee-to-employee messaging and the like. Some organizations even have a call roster with the employee’s personal number. Therefore, give the employee a quick call to verify that the individual is contacting you.

Training

Training is the most crucial defense against social engineering tactics. With incidents happening daily, remaining vigilant is essential. However, mere vigilance is not enough; frequent proactive security awareness training is vital to mitigate this type of threat. By consistently providing training, users gain a deeper understanding of the risks and measures to counter social engineering attacks.

This continuous education keeps cybersecurity at the forefront of their minds, ensuring they are better equipped to identify and respond to potential threats. Employing various training techniques and approaches helps to reinforce key principles and enhance overall cybersecurity proficiency among users. By prioritizing proactive cybersecurity awareness programs, organizations can establish a culture of security awareness and significantly reduce the propensity for successful social engineering attacks.

How Adlumin Can Help Protect Your Organization

Proactive Security Awareness: Adlumin offers a managed Proactive Security Awareness Program, which, as stated previously, is the best defense to counter social engineering tactics. Adlumin will develop and run monthly customized phishing simulations to educate and equip your users on how to identify phishing attempts. Learn more here.

Illuminate Threats and Eliminate Risks

Learn more about how Adlumin’s Managed Detection and Response Services and Security Operations Platform can empower your team to illuminate threats, eliminate cyber risk, and command authority. Contact us today, schedule a demo, or sign-up for a free trial.

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Cybersecurity Time Machine Series: The Evolution of Threat Actors

By: Brittany Holmes, Corporate Communications Manager 

In an interconnected world, the digital landscape has become the breeding ground for opportunities and dangers. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of this evolution every step of the way and have become more prevalent. As a result, all organizations are now targets. Staying one step ahead is imperative. For organizations to protect themselves and their assets effectively, they need to understand how threat actors adapt and refine their strategies.

The 2023 Cybersecurity Awareness Month’s theme celebrates 20 years of cybersecurity awareness. In relevance, we want to look back on the past 20 years to shed light on the significance of understanding a few prominent threat actors’ evolutions.

Threat Actors in The Early 2000s 

During the early 2000s, the internet was crawling with cybercriminals and script kiddies as primary threat actors. A script kiddie is a cybercriminal who uses existing code or computer scripts to hack into a computer. They usually lack the knowledge to come up with it on their own.

Motivated by a thirst for knowledge and the desire to showcase their technical skills, these individuals exploited vulnerabilities across networks. Their targets varied, encompassing everything from corporate entities to personal computing systems. Using a wide range of techniques, script kiddies mimicked the actions of their more experienced counterparts on a less sophisticated level. As time went on, their motivations began shifting towards financial gain.

As a result, advanced phishing and malware attacks started gaining traction within the digital world. These malicious actors honed their skills in deceiving unsuspecting individuals, often using highly sophisticated techniques to harvest personal information and turn it into profits. This transition marked a turning point in the world of cyber threats, setting the stage for more organized and financially driven attacks in the years to come.

Rise of Nation-State Actors 2005-2010 

The rise of nation-state actors has significantly impacted cybersecurity. One trend is the emergence of state-sponsored cybercriminals, who are employed by governments to sabotage operations and carry out cyber espionage. These cybercriminals are motivated by various factors, including gathering intelligence, financial gain, and gaining a competitive edge in certain industries. Their targets often include government agencies, defense contractors, and critical infrastructure.  

Two Notable Cyberattacks: 

  • In 2007, Estonia experienced a massive wave of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, believed to be orchestrated by Russia in response to a diplomatic dispute.  
  • In 2010, the Stuxnet worm created a new era of cyber warfare by targeting industrial control systems (ICS) used in Iran’s nuclear program. It was later revealed to be a joint effort by the United States and Israel. 

These incidents demonstrate the extent to which countries are now leveraging cyberattacks as a strategic tool for achieving their geopolitical goals.

Rise of Hacktivist Groups (2010-2015) 

Between 2010 and 2015, groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec came onto the scene. Their targets and motivations were wide-ranging, as they aimed to challenge authority, expose secrets, and promote freedom of information. Using tactics like data breaches and DDoS attacks, these groups looked to disrupt and damage the systems and credibility of their targets. 

Two Notable Hacktivist Groups:

  • Anonymous, founded in 2003, is a group that often attacks with a justice philosophy in mind. They targeted corporations, governments, and organizations that they thought were corrupt, oppressive, or unethical. Their actions included taking down the websites of major financial institutions during the Occupy Wall Street movement.  
  • LulzSec focused on causing chaos and amusement within the online community. Operating as a small team of cybercriminals, they deployed various cyberattacks targeting high-profile organizations like PBS, Fox, the X Factor, and individuals. Their motivations were often driven by the pursuit of “lulz,” or laughter, as they exposed vulnerabilities.

Ultimately, hacktivist groups demonstrate cyber activism to challenge authority and expose injustices. Their actions, whether through DDoS attacks or data breaches, highlighted the potential power of the internet in promoting transparency and holding institutions accountable. This period also raised questions about the lines between activism, vigilantism, and criminal activity, forcing governments and corporations to adapt their cybersecurity measures in response to this new digital landscape.

Shift Towards Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) and Ransomware (2015-Present) 

Over the past few years, we have seen a significant shift in threats with a rise in APT groups. These groups have a specific goal and aim to infiltrate and maintain long-term access to systems and networks. Another growing threat in the cyber landscape is ransomware attacks. Unlike APTs, ransomware attacks focus on quickly encrypting or disabling systems data until a ransom is paid. The reason behind these attacks is usually financial gain. Ransomware groups target small and large businesses. What is particularly concerning about ransomware attacks is the evolution and sophistication of the strains being used. 

Notable ATP Examples:

  • Deep Panda: This group mainly targets US government institutions looking to steal intellectual property and state secrets. They focus on high tech, education, legal services, telecommunications, finance, energy, and pharmaceuticals. They have been known to be highly organized and remain undetected on networks for months at a time.  
  • GhostNet: This has been a large-scale cyber spying operation that tricked users into downloading a malicious file. Once the user interacts with the file, a remote access trojan, known as ‘Ghost Rat,’ is then installed on their computer. They are known to have breached over 1,200 computers belonging to foreign ministries, government offices, and embassies in 103 countries.  

These attacks often target governments, corporations, and other high-value organizations, stealing sensitive information or conducting espionage.

Notable Ransomware Attacks:

  • WannaCry: In 2017, malicious software spread globally, encrypting Windows operating systems. It encrypted files and demanded ransomware to restore access. These attacks went after hundreds of thousands of computers in over 150 countries.  
  • LockBit: In 2019, LockBit deployed advanced encryption algorithms to make files inaccessible and display a ransomware note demanding payment. There are various delivery methods, including gaining access to unauthorized networks, phishing emails, and software vulnerabilities. They use double-extortion methods, setting LockBit apart from other ransomware.  

The overall evolution of threat actors will continuously change and become more sophisticated. They are growing in scale, posing a significant risk to organizations of all sizes. Educating yourself and your organization on the latest threat actors can help prepare you.  

Take Proactive Security Measures 

The past two decades have shown a significant evolution in the cybersecurity landscape, particularly in the sophistication and complexity of threat actors. The market has shifted and now every organization, big or small, is a target. Organized groups have emerged, adding a new level of threat to mid-market organizations that previously believed they were too small to be targeted. The financial gains associated with cyber threats have become the main motivator, and it is crucial to recognize the evolving nature of these attacks in order to stay protected.  

Stay tuned for our blog next week to explore the next steps to protect your organization from cyber threats. 


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Trending Ransomware Attacks and How to Stop Infection Before Payment

By: Brittany Demendi, Corporate Communications Manager

With the rise of ransomware attacks, it is more important than ever to be proactive when it comes to protecting your organization’s devices and networks. Knowing about the various types of ransomware, such as LockBit, BlackCat, and Medusa, is important. Additionally, it is essential to understand how ransomware affects a system and device, and the steps you should take to detect and stop ransomware before it is too late.

In this blog, we will discuss some of the most dangerous and widespread ransomware attacks, how they affect a system, and the steps you should take to prevent them from wreaking havoc on your organization.

Trending Ransomware Attacks

The following section references trending ransomware attacks/gangs from Adlumin’s Threat Research Team.

LockBit:

LockBit is malicious software that blocks users’ access to their computer systems in exchange for a ransom payment. LockBit will automatically spread the infection, vet for other valuable targets, and encrypt systems on the network. Attackers have targeted organizations globally and have made their mark by threatening data theft, extortion, and operational disruption.

It is a self-spreading type of malicious software that does not require manual direction from the attacker. In addition, it uses tools like Server Message Block (SMB) and Windows Powershell to target an organization’s user rather than spread like spam malware.

LockBit attacks in three stages:

  1. Exploit
  2. Infiltrate
  3. Attack

BlackCat:

BlackCat, also known as ALPHV, has been deemed one of the most threatening and sophisticated types of malware in recent years. BlackCat is considered ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS). Although there has been a decline, BlackCat is still dangerous as they target organizations globally using triple-extortion tactics. Cybercriminals use a malware-infected email or website link to lure in victims, quickly spreading across an entire system.

After BlackCat attackers gain initial access to a network, they begin lateral movement phases identifying sensitive data to later encrypt. It is difficult to remove and will attempt to disable anti-virus software and other security measures. Cybercriminals will also modify system files and settings to make a recovery more complex.

One of the main differences between BlackCat and other types of ransomware is that it is written in Rust programming language. There has been an increase in this type of language because it is stable, fast, and secure to evade existing capabilities while allowing for better memory management. BlackCat can also run on non-Windows operating systems like Linux.

Medusa:

Medusa has been picking up media coverage this past year with increased activity and the launch of their ‘Medusa Blog,’ where they leak data for victims who do not pay a ransom. They target globally and demand millions in ransom.

Medusa is known to shut down over 280 Windows processes and servers, including database servers, backup servers, and security software, and will prevent files from being encrypted. They claim to exfiltrate data from organizations and perform a double-extortion attack where the threat actor encrypts compromised systems and releases or sells the data publicly on their blog. Since they are relatively new, additional capabilities are still being discovered.

How Ransomware Affects a System of Device

Ransomware is used in several different methods to infect an organization’s device or network. Some of the most common ransomware infection vectors include:

  • Social Engineering Attacks and Phishing Emails: Phishing emails entice employees and victims to download and run malicious attachments, which contain ransomware disguised as a link, PDF, Word document…etc. An attacker can access their system once that link or attachment is opened or downloaded. IBM recently reported that 45% of all ransomware attacks successfully infiltrate through a phishing email or a social engineering tactic.
  • Account Compromise: Cybercriminals buy authorized users’ credentials off the dark web or steal or obtain them via brute force. They then use the credentials to log into a computer or network to deploy ransomware directly. A widespread credential theft technique that cybercriminals use is the remote desktop protocol to access a victim’s computer remotely.
  • Software Vulnerabilities: It is common for cybercriminals to exploit software vulnerabilities by injecting malicious code into the network or device. Attackers know how common it is for organizations to not have everything patched, making known vulnerabilities the easiest point of entry or technique to plan their attack.

Detection Before Ransomware Execution

One of the most important steps for all organizations to protect themselves from ransomware is taking a proactive approach to cybersecurity by investing in the right solutions and technologies. In conjunction with a Security Operations Platform and Managed Detection and Response Services, implementing a solution specific to ransomware adds multiple layers of protection to an organization to proactively block ransomware from executing. If signs of a ransomware attack are detected, the attack can be stopped before the files are encrypted.

Typically, when a ransomware attack occurs, removing ransomware alone does not give you access to your files again. It will still require a solution and tool to prevent you from having to pay the ransom, with an encryption key to unlock it. Specifically, a multilayer ransomware defense solution will stop the ransomware before this stage is even needed. These solutions are not a replacement for threat management solutions but an added necessity to enhance your cybersecurity protection.

Adlumin’s threat experts work as an extension to your security team and can detect ransomware before havoc is reached and reduce an event’s impact. They can empower your team to illuminate threats, eliminate cyber risk, and command authority. Contact us today, schedule a demo, or sign-up for a free trial.