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CryptoLocker gang casts tentacles into botnet crime world

CryptoLocker cyber-gang sometimes sharing 75% of extortion profits with botnet owners, Symantec says

By , Network World
November 22, 2013 04:07 PM ET

Network World - The cyber-gang running the CryptoLocker extortion racket is sharing a big cut of any payments they squeeze out of their victims with criminal botnet owners working closely with them, says Symantec, which has been monitoring this underworld activity online.

The CryptoLocker gang, believed to be mainly Russian-speaking, created the malware that makes use of strong encryption to lock up the victim’s electronic files until the victim pays a ransom, which typically starts at least $150 to get the key to unlock their scrambled files. The gang itself is paying criminal botnet owners operating vast command-and-control systems of compromised computers to distribute CryptoLocker as a dangerous attachment in spam, says Liam O’Murchu, manager of security response operations at Symantec. In addition to spam distribution, which relies on the victim opening the malware-laden attachment to spread CryptoLocker, the gang is willing to pay a botnet owner as much as 75% of any extortion money they can get from victims if the botnet owner directly drops CryptoLocker onto a compromised machine it already controls.

[RELATED: Businesses offer best practices for escaping CryptoLocker hell]

Doing that basically scores a direct hit for CryptoLocker but can be counted as a loss of a compromised computer for botnet owners, hence the willingness to share such a high percentage of the monetary gain netted from any victim, O’Murchu says. “They’re making a lot of money,” and victims are expected to pay in Bitcoin or MoneyPak.

CryptoLocker gang is  'making a lot of money.'

The Swansea, Mass., Police department even paid up a reported $750 for a pair of Bitcoins to get its files back recently. Since it encrypts files and makes them wholly inaccessible, CryptoLocker, first noticed in the September timeframe, is getting wide attention wherever it strikes. The University of Kentucky, for instance, just put out a campus alert warning it had seen victims there, and urging anyone whose computer is taken over by CryptoLocker to call the IT department immediately.

In most cases, there’s not  much the  IT department can do except isolate the infected computer and wipe it.

One IT manager, speaking not for attribution, explained how his department handled a CryptoLocker infection on an employee’s computer. “We remove the infected laptop from the network and shut down the share.  The laptop is reimaged and the share file structure is copied to a device, the encrypted files are deleted from the copy, we don’t risk restoring the entire contents of the copy. We restore the share from the previous evening’s backup.” He added: “If someone is really in need of a file from the copy, and that file was not one that was encrypted, we will restore that one file.”

O’Murchu says there’s no guarantee that anyone willing to pay the CryptoLocker blackmail will actually get the encryption key from the gang, and that the preferred response would be to regain files through a very reliable back-up system. A number of businesses hit by CryptoLocker recently have said reliable data back-up was the only way they restored their computer files.

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