Ransomware targeting schools

Action Fraud warns that:

Fraudsters are posing [as] government officials in order to trick people into installing ransomware which encrypts files on victim’s computers [by] …cold calling education establishments claiming to be from the “Department of Education”. They then ask to be given the personal email and/or phone number of the head teacher/financial administrator.*

They claim that they need to email guidance to the person in authority because of sensitive comment. However, the attachment contains ransomware.

* Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Commentary by Graham Cluley for BitDefender: Schools warned about cold-calling ransomware attacks

David Harley


Support Scammers hit Mac users with DoS attacks

 examines another attack somewhere on the thin borderline between ransomware and tech support scams: Tech support scam page triggers denial-of-service attack on Macs. This is another instance of scammers encouraging victims to call a fake helpline by hitting them with some sort Denial of Service (DoS) attack: in this case, by causing Mail to keep opening email drafts until the machine freezes, or using iTunes., apparently to put up a fake alert.

Commentary by David Bisson for Tripwire: Tech Support Scam Creates Series of Email Drafts to Crash Macs.

David Harley


Ransomware Roundup – Koolova, KillDisk and more


Perhaps the oddest thing to pop up recently is the Koolova ransomware (which refers to itself as Nice Jigsaw): it encrypts files and threatens to delete them, but supplies a decryption key once the victim has read two articles: Google’s  Stay safe while browsing  and Bleeping Computer’s Jigsaw Ransomware Decrypted: Will delete your files until you pay the Ransom.

Lawrence Abrams: Koolova Ransomware Decrypts for Free if you Read Two Articles about Ransomware. Commentary by Graham Cluley for Tripwire: Ransomware Offers Free Decryption if you Learn About Cybersecurity.

I have to agree with Abrams that there’s something creepy (to say the least) about this. But not only because it cites one of his own articles. Even though the ‘ransom’ isn’t monetary, there are less offensive ways in which someone could make that ‘educational’ point without compromising someone else’s data and without the barely-concealed gloating because of the power they have over the victim but choose not to exercise. And I find it hard to believe that the people behind this are always going to be so ‘nice’. Are they priming the pump for a different kind of attack?


For ESET, Robert Lipovsky and Peter Kálnai have more information on KillDisk’s recent foray into ransomware: KillDisk now targeting Linux: Demands $250K ransom, but can’t decrypt.

They summarize:

The recent addition of ransomware functionality seems a bit unusual, as previous attacks were cyber-espionage and cyber-sabotage operations. Considering the high ransom of around USD 250,000 – resulting in a low probability that victims would pay up, in addition to the fact that the attackers have not implemented an efficient way of decrypting the files, this seems more like a nail in the coffin, rather than a true ransomware campaign.


Meanwhile, the Petya-derived GoldenEye has been targeting German-speaking HR departments as a way into the lucrative corporate ransomware market. According to Checkpoint:

The first attachment is a PDF containing a cover letter which has no malicious content and its primary purpose is to lull the victim into a false sense of security. The second attachment is an Excel file with malicious macros unbeknown to the receiver.

Not a novel approach, but it’s worked well for other types of malware (including Cerber), and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be effective this time, even though (as David Bisson points out):

While those in HR should expect to receive emails from all kinds of people, they shouldn’t give anyone who sends a Microsoft Office document with macros enabled the time of day. In fact, organizations should make sure that every computer in every department disables Office macros by default.


Cert.PL offers analysis of the newly-polished tur^H^H^H CryptFile2, now known as CryptoMix: Technical analysis of CryptoMix/CryptFile2 ransomware

Among its ‘interesting’ features:

  • The ‘insane’ ransom amount (currently 5 bitcoin)
  • There’s a suggestion in the analysis that paying is likely to generate further ransom demands, but not the decryption keys
  • The crooks claim that the ransom will be contributed to a children’s charity, and that the victim will get free PC support. Yeah, right.

In fact, none of this information is particularly new, but the technical analysis is interesting.


A fast-evolving threat appeared on Christmas Eve 2016, but researchers quickly provided free decryptors.

Decryptors are available from Checkpoint and from MalwareHunterTeam’s Michael Gillespie.

Unnamed PHP Ransomware(-ish)

Checkpoint also has a decryptor for the unnamed PHP ransomware also described in its article. In fact, ransomware might be the wrong word in this case, since at present it displays no ransom ‘note’ and has no known channel for paying a ransom.

David Harley

LG TV ransomware revisited

In case you were wondering what happened as regards the story I previously blogged here – Smart TV Hit by Android Ransomware – it appears that LG has decided after all to make the reset instructions for the TV public rather than requiring an LG engineer to perform the task for only twice the price of a new set… Note that this was an old model running Android, not a newer model running WebOS.

Catch-up story by David Bisson (following up on his earlier story for Metacompliance) for Graham Cluley’s blog: How to remove ransomware from your LG Smart TV – And the ransomware devs go home empty-handed!

The article quotes The Register’s article here, which details the instructions, but also links to a video on YouTube by Darren Cauthon – who originally flagged the problem – demonstrating the process.

[Also posted at Mac Virus]

David Harley


KillDisk: from disk-wiping to ransomware

CyberX reports that KillDisk, already associated with cybersabotage, is now also being used as a basis for ransomware, demanding a hefty 222 bitcoin in ransom.


Commentary by Catalin Cimpanu for Bleeping Computer: KillDisk Disk-Wiping Malware Adds Ransomware Component.

Commentary by David Bisson for Tripwire: KillDisk Wiper Malware Evolves into Ransomware.

David Harley

Malware distributed as fake security software

An article by Catalin Cimpanu for Bleeping Computer: It’s Almost 2017 and Users Are Still Getting Infected with Malware via Fake AV Software includes instances of a Remote Access Trojan and ransomware distributed as fake security software including Goldeneye/Petya and Stampado.

David Harley

Smart TV Hit by Android Ransomware

Software engineer Darren Cauthon tweeted about how: ‘Family member’s tv is bricked by Android malware. #lg wont disclose factory reset. Avoid these “smart tvs” like the plague.’

To put this into some perspective, this isn’t a recent model: he explains that ‘It was one of the first google tvs.’ (Google TV is no longer supported, and LG smart TVs now run on WebOS, apparently. However, Google is said to be working on another Android-based platform.)

Catalin Cimpanu reports for Bleeping Computer that ‘Cauthon says he tried to reset the TV to factory settings, but the reset procedure available online didn’t work.’ When contacted, it seems that LG suggested that an engineer could reset the TV at a cost of $340. Cimpanu suggests that the malware is probably FLocker (a.k.a. Dogspectus).

Commentary by David Bisson for MetaCompliance here.

David Harley

CryptXXX: free decryptor or discount? Hmm…

I see there is much excitement in the media about CryptXXX’s ‘Christmas discount’, the ransom having been reduced from 1.2 bitcoin to 0.5 until the end of December. Of more significance is the fact that Kaspersky have once more been able to update their Rannoh decryptor to handle CryptXXX version 3. Available from directly from Kaspersky or from NoMoreRansom.org.

Commentary from The Register – Don’t pay up to decrypt – cure found for CryptXXX ransomware, again – and from SC Media, in an article with some interesting commentary from industry stalwarts such as Anton Ivanov and Paul Ducklin, even though most of the story is about the ‘discount’.

David Harley

No More Ransom: new partners

The ‘No More Ransom‘ site has quietly added a number of ‘Associated’ and ‘Supporting’ partners. For SecurityWeek, Kevin Townsend explains the difference/partner hierarchy, and quotes a number of industry figures (including me, at some length): No More Ransom Alliance Gains Momentum.

It’s good news, but I think there’s more they could do.

David Harley

Malwarebytes makes VinCEmeat of screen locker

Interesting analysis from Pieter Arntz for Malwarebytes of the VinCE screen locker, intended to persuade the victim into calling the ‘helpline’ number the malware displays. An example of malware that illustrates an almost imperceptible distinction between a tech support scam and true ransomware.

A closer look at a tech support screen locker

This AVIEN article also added to Tech Support Scams and Ransomware, to Specific Ransomware Families and Types,  and to PC ‘Tech Support’  Scam Resources. The latter has now been renamed by dropping the reference to cold-calls, as cold-calling is no longer the only (or, arguably, the most effective) means of implementing tech support scams.

David Harley