Publication firm Sandhills Global has suffered a Conti Ransomware infection, causing hosted websites to become inaccessible and disrupting their business operations. Sandhills Global is a US-based trade publication and hosting company catering to the transportation, agriculture, aircraft, heavy machinery, and technology industries.
Sandhills publishes printed and hosted trade publications concerning industry news and a marketplace to sell new and used machinery.
Last week, the company’s website and all hosted publications went offline. Shortly following this, the Conti Ransomware infection also caused their phones to stop working.
When users attempted to access hosted websites during the Conti Ransomware attack, they were greeted with a CloudFlare Origin DNS error.
The Conti Ransomware attack took place in the early morning hours of Thursday last.
Some of the well-known publications operated by Sandhills that are no longer accessible include Truck Paper, TractorHouse, AuctionTime, Machinery Trader, ForestryTrader, HiBid, RentalYard, Motorsports Universe, CraneTrader, MarketBook, RV Universe, Oil Field Trader, Aircraft, LiveStockMarket, Controller, and Aircraft.com.
The Conti ransomware gang has been responsible for a wide range of attacks over the years, including high-profile attacks against the JVCKenwood, the City of Tulsa, Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE), and Advantech.
When conducting attacks, the Conti Ransomware gang usually steals files before encrypting devices to use as extra leverage during their extortion attempts. They then demand multi-million ransom demands to receive a decryptor and not leak stolen data.
It is unknown how much the Conti is demanding from Sandhills and whether they stole data during the attack.
Though Sndhills Global has not confirmed it was Conti Ransomware, sources inside the company confirmed it. An email sent to customers did disclose some details of the Conti Ransomware attack, which you can read below.
“Sandhills Global is currently responding to a ransomware attack that impacted our operations. Systems and operations have been temporarily shut down to protect data and information, and we have retained cybersecurity experts to assist us with the investigation, which is ongoing. We are working actively and diligently with the assistance of our retained experts to fully restore operations.
“At this time, we are continuing to investigate whether any of our client’s information has been accessed or impacted by this incident. At this time, we have not discovered evidence that confirms that customer information has been compromised. Please know that our clients are our number one priority and we are working diligently to restore operations and remediate the attack. At this time, our ability to respond to your messages may be delayed. We appreciate your patience and deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause.
We will provide updates regarding this matter and the status of our services as soon as possible.”
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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