Kraken Ransomware Emerges from the Depths: How to Tame the Beast

Look out, someone has released the Kraken — or at least a ransomware strain named after it. Kraken Cryptor ransomware first made its appearance back in August, but in mid-September, the malicious beast emerged from the depths disguised as the legitimate spyware application SuperAntiSpyware. In fact, the attackers behind the ransomware were able to access the website and distribute the ransomware from there.

So how did this stealthy monster recently gain more traction? The McAfee Advanced Threat Research team, along with the Insikt group from Recorded Future, decided to uncover the mystery. They soon found that the Fallout Exploit kit, a type of toolkit cybercriminals use to take advantage of system vulnerabilities, started delivering Kraken ransomware at the end of September. In fact, this is the same exploit kit used to deliver GandCrab ransomware. With this new partnership between Kraken and Fallout, Kraken now has an extra vessel to employ its malicious tactics.

Now, let’s discuss how Kraken ransomware works to encrypt a victim’s computer. Kraken utilizes a business scheme called Ransomware-as-a-Service, or RaaS, which is a platform tool distributed by hackers to other hackers. This tool gives cybercriminals the ability to hold a victim’s computer files, information, and systems hostage. Once the victim pays the ransom, the hacker sends a percentage of the payment to the RaaS developers in exchange for a decryption code to be forwarded to the victim. However, Kraken wipes files from a computer using external tools, making data recovery nearly impossible for the victim. Essentially, it’s a wiper.

Kraken Cryptor ransomware employs a variety of tactics to keep it from being detected by many antimalware products. For example, hackers are given a new variant of Kraken every 15 days to help it slip under an antimalware solution’s radar. The ransomware also uses an exclusion list, a common method utilized by cybercriminals to avoid prosecution. The exclusion list archives all locations where Kraken cannot be used, suggesting that the cybercriminals behind the ransomware attacks reside in those countries. As you can see, Kraken goes to great lengths to cover its tracks, making it a difficult cyberthreat to fight.

Kraken’s goal is to encourage more wannabe cybercriminals to purchase this RaaS and conduct their own attacks, ultimately leading to more money in the developers’ pockets. Our research team observed that in Version 2 of Kraken, developers decreased their profit percentage by 5%, probably as a tactic to attract more affiliate hackers. The more criminal customers Kraken can onboard, the more attacks they can flesh out, and the more they can profit off of ransom collections.

So, what can users do to defend themselves from this stealthy monstrosity? Here are some proactive steps you can take:

  • Be wary of suspicious emails or pop-ups. Kraken was able to gain access to a legitimate website and other ransomware can too. If you receive a message or pop-up claiming to be from a company you trust but the content seems fishy, don’t click on it. Go directly to the source and contact the company from their customer support line.
  • Backup your files often. With cybercrime on the rise, it’s vital to consistently back up all of your important data. If your device becomes infected with ransomware, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get it back. Stay prepared and protected by backing up your files on an external hard drive or in the cloud.
  • Never pay the ransom. Although you may feel desperate to get your data back, paying does not guarantee that all of your information will be returned to you. Paying the ransom also contributes to the development of more ransomware families, so it’s best to just hold off on making any payments.
  • Use a decryption tool. No More Ransom provides tools to help users free their encrypted data. If your device gets held for ransom, check and see if a decryption tool is available for your specific strain of ransomware.
  • Use a comprehensive security solution. Add an extra layer of security on to all your devices by using a solution such as McAfee Total Protection, which now includes ransom guard and will help you better protect against these types of threats.

And, of course, to stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats, be sure to follow me and @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable? and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

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