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Ransom DDoS Extortion On the Rise Again
A recent report from researchers at Proofpoint showed that ransom distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) extortions are on the rise again.
In the blog post “Ransom DDoS Extortion Actor 'Fancy Lazarus' Returns,” researchers at Proofpoint reported that since May 21, 2021, they've observed renewed DDoS extortion activity targeting an increasing number of industries by the threat group known as "Fancy Lazarus." In a DDoS attack, a system (website, network, application server, DNS server, and individual IP) is flooded with data requests in a bid to shut it down.
“The ransom distributed denial of service extortion threat actor known as ‘Fancy Lazarus’ is back, taking aim at an increasing number of industries, including the energy, financial, insurance, manufacturing, public utilities, and retail sectors,” researchers at Proofpoint said. “The actor [Fancy Lazarus] took over a month-long break from April to May 2021 before returning with new campaigns that include some changes to the group’s tactics, techniques, and procedures ….”
According to researchers at Proofpoint, the threat group’s latest campaign changes the group’s name to Fancy Lazarus from previous names such as “Lazarus,” “Lazarus Group,” and “Armada Collective.” The researchers found no connection between this ransom DDoS extortion group and the advanced persistent threat (APT) actors with the same names.
Ransom DDoS Extortion Prevalence
On November 1, 2019, CERT NZ reported that it received reports relating to an extortion campaign targeting companies within the financial sector in New Zealand. The extortion campaign, CERT NZ said, involved two phases. The first phase involved an email stating the name of the extortionist, the name of the target company, the deadline when the major DDoS attack will occur and the demand for a ransom to prevent it.
The second phase, according to CERT NZ, involved a demonstrative DDoS attack (typically lasting 30 minutes) against an IP address belonging to the companies’ network. CERT NZ said the DDoS techniques used in the demonstrative DDoS attack, include targeting services using the following protocols:
Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
Web Service Dynamic Discovery (WSD)
Apple’s Remote Management Service (ARMS)
Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP)
Network Time Protocol (NTP)
Domain Name System (DNS)
Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)
SYN and Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP)
On November 15, 2019, researchers at Akamai said multiple companies have reported receiving an email demanding 2 bitcoins. Akamai said the extortion email contains a threat that if payment isn’t made before the deadline expires, the price increases by 1 bitcoin and the targeted DDoS attack will start.
“Shortly after a customer received one of these extortion emails, Akamai observed a 30Gbps attack (at peak) originating from a globally distributed botnet, where each IP sent a fraction of the overall traffic,” Akamai said. “The attackers were abusing DNS, Apple Remote Management Service (ARMS), CLDAP, TFTP, PortMap, and WS-Discovery (WSD), across the UDP protocol.”
In August 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an alert warning that thousands of organizations in multiple industries across the globe were targeted in the ransom DDoS extortion campaign similar to the ransom DDoS extortion campaign described by Akamai and CERT NZ. According to the FBI, DDoS "demonstration" launched by the threat group varied across institutions with some targeting a single IP address and others targeting multiple IP addresses, as well as variable peak volumes and attack length.
In the August 2020 blog post "Ransom Demands Return: New DDoS Extortion Threats From Old Actors Targeting Finance and Retail," researchers at Akamai said they’ve observed ransom DDoS attacks peak at almost 200 Gb/sec, utilizing ARMS, DNS Flood, GRE Protocol Flood, SNMP Flood, SYN Flood, and WSDiscovery Flood attacks as their main vectors.
Teresa Walsh, global head of intelligence at the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), a cybersecurity consortium of nearly 7,000 financial companies told the Wall Street Journal last February that the global nature of the targets of the ransom DDoS extortion campaign was alarming, citing victims in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia-Pacific.
“After about four or five members raised their hands to say that they were seeing similar activity [ransom DDoS extortion], that’s when we started diving into a potential campaign against our members,” said Walsh. “This accumulated week upon week. Even months later, we were still seeing extortion emails coming through, and short-lived attacks,” Ms. Walsh said.
Ransom DDoS Extortion Campaign Modus Operandi
According to Proofpoint researchers, the ransom DDoS extortion campaign modus operandi always begins with sensational emails. The researchers said the extortion emails contain the following:
It’s important to note that DDoS attack against websites, networks, application servers, DNS servers, and individual IPs is now preventable with a DDoS protection solution.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP