Locky ransomware is the latest devastating member of the ransomware family that employs strong encryption and is used in targeted campaigns.
For example, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was indeed attacked by Locky, as disclosed by security researchers.
Thanks to the attack on the Hollywood Presbyterian, Locky’s authors gained $17,000 in ransom money. Thousands of dollars have flooded into the cyber criminals’ account just by a single targeted attack.
Locky’s Financially Sound Targets
Besides hitting the HPMC, Locky has been observed to target victims primarily in the following countries:
- The United States
Research from Palo Alto reveals that the US was the main target, the Hollywood Presbyterian being the first big target. However, new evidence indicates that Locky’s creators are currently expanding the list of preferred countries. A malicious email written in German shows that Locky’s operators are now pointing at German-speaking countries.
Palo Alto wrote that:
We observed approximately 446,000 sessions for this threat, over half of which targeted the United States (54%). For comparison, the next most impacted countries, Canada and Australia, only accounted for another nine percent combined.
No wonder such countries are preferred by cyber criminal gangs – those are ‘high-level’ communities with enough financial resources to transfer ransom payments. In other words, both the regular, tax-paying citizens and the various organizations in those regions are much more likely to pay than the ones, say, in Eastern Europe. Or even worse, the Balkans! We haven’t seen many ransomware campaigns targeting those regions, have we?
Locky is currently being spread in aggressive spam campaigns that resemble a lot the techniques previously used by Dridex’s operators. In fact, there are enough similarities to make us believe that Locky has been crafted by the same hands that created the Dridex banking malware.
Learn More about Spam and Ransomware
The Similarities between Dridex and Locky
There’s enough logic in security researchers’ suspicions linking Locky to Dridex’s operators. Palo Alto’s point of view:
Researchers suspect there is a link between the Dridex botnet affiliate 220 and Locky due to similar styles of distribution, overlapping filenames, and an absence of campaigns from this particularly aggressive affiliate coinciding with the initial emergence of Locky.
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Moreover, as pointed out by ProofPoint, the botnet delivering Locky’s spam emails is the same one that distributes most of the spam emails linking to Dridex. Besides Dridex, this botnet has been observed to install other malware such as Ursnif, Nymaim, Shifu, and, interestingly, TeslaCrypt.
Even if Locky’s operators are not Dridex’s ones, they have borrowed quite a lot from the banking malware, especially in terms of distribution. Unfortunately, the number of Locky infections may even outrun the number of Dridex-themed campaigns registered to this date.
Why Keeping Macros Disabled Is Crucial
First of all, let us clarify what macros are.
A macro is a series of commands and actions that automate certain tasks. No matter how they are created, macros need to be executed by a system that will interpret the stored commands. Some macro systems are self-contained programs, but others are built into complex applications (such as word processors) to allow users to repeat sequences of commands easily, or to allow developers to modify and adapt the particular application (via Wikipedia).
In the aspect of Microsoft Word, macros are a trusted method to automate certain common tasks in MS Office. Unfortunately, malware can also employ the macro functionality in order to install malware onto a targeted PC.
Here we get to macro malware.
In most cases, macro malware resides in Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel documents. Many malware infections have started this way. The malicious documents are usually spread via spam email attachments, or inside ZIP files attached to the spam email.
Indeed, aggressive spam campaigns are the current distribution method employed by Locky. The malware operators are spreading cleverly crafted spam messages that appear to be sent from trustworthy sources in accordance with the targeted country. The infection process requires the user enabling the Macros within the Word document. This is when the actual infection takes place.
A Locky spam email. Image Source: ProofPoint
For obvious security-related concerns, macros are usually disabled by Microsoft by default. However, cyber criminals know that and always find ways to make potential victims enable macros and subsequently get infected.
In short, to stay safe against macro malware, and respectively ransomware, follow these steps:
- Disable macros in Microsoft Office applications.The very first thing to do is check if macros are disabled in Microsoft office. For more information, visit Microsoft Office’s official page. Keep in mind that if you are an enterprise user, the system administrator is the one who is in charge of the macro default settings.
- Don’t open suspicious emails. Simple as that. If you receive an unexpected email from an unknown sender – like an invoice – don’t open it before making sure it is legitimate. Spam is the primary way of distributing macro malware.
- Employ anti-spam measures. Use anti-spam software, spam filters, aimed at examining incoming email. Such software isolates spam from regular emails. Spam filters are designed to identify and detect spam, and prevent it from reaching your inbox. Make sure to add a spam filter to your email. Gmail users can refer to Google’s support page.
And don’t forget to keep your anti-malware program updated and running at all times!
Spy Hunter scanner will only detect the threat. If you want the threat to be automatically removed, you need to purchase the full version of the anti-malware tool.Find Out More About SpyHunter Anti-Malware Tool / How to Uninstall SpyHunter