Conti Ransomware continues its global attack campaigns, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says that the gang has attempted to breach sixteen U.S. healthcare and first responder organizations. The FBI shared the information via a Traffic Light Protocol: WHITE alert issued on Thursday. The purpose of this report is to help system administrators and security professionals defend their organizations’ networks against future Conti Ransomware attacks. “The FBI identified at least 16 Conti ransomware attacks targeting U.S. healthcare and first responder networks, including law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, 9-1-1 dispatch centers, and municipalities within the last year,” the FBI Cyber Division said.
“These healthcare and first responder networks are among the more than 400 organizations worldwide victimized by Conti, over 290 of which are located in the U.S.”
According to the FBI report, Conti ransom demands are tailor-made for each victim. Usually, this means the Conti Ransomware gang researches how much the victim could realistically pay. Recent ransom demands by the gang have been as high as $25 million.
The Conti Ransomware gang usually follows a timed MO, wherein if the ransom is not paid within 8 days, the hackers will contact their victims over VOIP services or encrypted email.
The FBI has urged victims to share information on Conti Ransomware attacks that hit their networks to help prevent future attacks.
“Cyber attacks targeting networks used by emergency services personnel can delay access to real-time digital information, increasing safety risks to first responders and could endanger the public who rely on calls for service to not be delayed. Targeting healthcare networks can delay access to vital information, potentially affecting care and treatment of patients including cancellation of procedures, rerouting to unaffected facilities, and compromise of Protected Health Information.” said the report by the FBI Cyber Division.
Conti ransomware is a private Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) operation believed to be controlled by a Russian-based cybercrime group known as Wizard Spider. Conti shares some of its code with the notorious Ryuk Ransomware, whose TrickBot distribution channels they started using after Ryuk activity decreased around July 2020.
This ransomware gang has recently breached the networks of Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) and Department of Health (DoH), asking the former to pay a $20 million ransom after successfully encrypting its systems.
Even though the DoH was able to block Conti from encrypting its systems, the HSE was not as lucky and was had to shut down all I.T. systems to prevent the ransomware from spreading through its network.
Following the attack on Ireland’s public healthcare system, the Conti gang released a free decryptor for the HSE but warned that the 700 GB of data stolen from their network will still be released or sold.
The U.S. government previously warned the healthcare industry of ransomware targeting hospitals and healthcare providers in October 2020, after Ryuk operators took down the computer and phone systems of Fortune 500 hospital and healthcare services provider Universal Health Services (UHS).
Conti Ransomware Analysis
Note: The Analysis of Conti Ransomware was carried out by researchers at Vipre Labs.
Conti ransomware encrypts the files of their victims and publishes the data on their website similar to what other strains do. This extortion behavior is visible on their ransom note saying “We’ve downloaded your data and are ready to publish it on our news website”.
When executed, it will start to encrypt files and change the file extension of the encrypted files to .ODMUA. Like other ransomware, it will leave a ransom note that has a filename “readme.txt”.
The Conti ransomware website has an instruction on how to upload the README.txt for the decryption and a contact button at the bottom left of the page. Once you click the contact button, a form will appear where you will provide your contact information and question as shown below.
Conti ransomware will perform a known malware technique called process hollowing. It is where the malware will create a process in a suspended state, unmaps or removes the PE image layout from a given process space using ZwUnmapViewofSection function, write it’s malicious code using WriteProcessMemory, set a new entry point using SetThreadContext, and resume the execution of the suspended process using the ResumeThread function.
Upon research, we found out that the use of -p argument is to encrypt a specific directory with a single thread and the -m argument is to encrypt the files with multiple threads. It means that Conti ransomware has a multi-threading capability. Multi-threading is where main ransomware creates child threads to speed up the encryption.
It will use a string “hsfjuukjzloqu28oajh727190” that was decrypted using the decryption of string routine mentioned above for creating a mutex using CreateMutexA function. Then check if there’s an already running mutex. This was commonly used by ransomware to avoid infecting the system more than once.
It will also delete all the shadow volume copies on the infected system to ensure that the victims won’t be able to recover their encrypted files.
After deleting the shadow copies, Conti ransomware will now start its file encryption by first creating the ransom note which will be first drop in C drive using “CreateFileW” and write the content of its ransom note using “WriteFile”.
As with other ransomware, it will utilize the functions “FindFirstFileW” and “FindNextFileW” to find the files they will encrypt. Conti ransomware has a list of files/file extension and directories which will be excluded for the infection.
When Conti finds the file to be encrypted, it will now generate keys that will be used to encrypt the files. It will used the handle returned by calling the function “CryptAcquireContext” that request a cryptographic context from the Microsoft Enhanced Cryptographic Provider, then the “CryptGenRandom” function to generate cryptographically random bytes, and “CryptEncrypt” function. It leverages AES 256 encryption for their infection.
Then it will open the target file using the “CreateFile” function and retrieve the size of the target file using “GetFileSize”. After this the malware will decrypt different file extensions and check if the file extension of the targeted file is in the list.
Conti ransomware will not just encrypt the files of the infected machine but also spreads and infects the other machine on the same network using SMB protocol.
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