Surge in Spam Campaign Delivering Locky Ransomware Downloaders
FireEye Labs is detecting a significant spike in Locky ransomware downloaders due to a pair of concurrent email spam campaigns impacting users in over 50 countries. Some of the top affected countries are depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Affected countries
As seen in Figure 2, the steep spike starts on March 21, 2016, where Locky is running campaigns that coincide with the new Dridex campaigns that were discussed in the blog, “Stop Scanning My Macro”.
Figure 2. Detection on spam delivered malware
Prior to Locky’s emergence in February 2016, Dridex was known to be responsible for a relatively higher volume of email spam campaigns. However, as shown in Figure 3, we can see that Locky is catching up with Dridex’s spam activities. This is especially true for this week, as we are seeing more Locky-related spam themes than Dridex. On top of that, we also are seeing Dridex and Locky running campaigns on the same day, which resulted in an abnormal detection spike.
Figure 3. Dridex versus Locky spam campaign over time
Locky Ransomware spam
The new Locky spam campaign uses several themes such as “invoice notice”, “attached image”, and “attached document themes”. See Figure 4 and Figure 5 for example campaign emails.
Figure 4. Urgent Invoice Campaign
Figure 5. Other Campaigns
Figure 6. Zipped Content
Figure 7. Locky Downloader Mechanism
The volume of Locky ransomware downloaders observed is increasing and it may potentially replace the Dridex downloader as the top spammer. One of the latest victims of Locky is Methodist Hospital, where the victim was reportedly forced to pay a ransom to retrieve their encrypted data. This suggests that the cybercriminals are earning more from ransomware and this drives their aggressive campaigns.
Technical Analysis of a Locky Payload Sample
MD5 Sum: 3F118D0B888430AB9F58FC2589207988 (First seen on 2016-02-24 in VirusTotal)
- The malware does not contain a persistence mechanism. An external tool or installer is required if the attacker desires persistence.
- The malware contains the ability to install the
following registry key for persistence; this functionality is
disabled in this variant.
File System Artifacts
- The malware encrypts files on the system and creates new files
with the encrypted contents in the same directory with the following
- <system identifier><16 random hex digits>.locky
- The <system identifier> value is the ASCII hexadecimal representation of the first eight bytes of the MD5 hash of the GUID of the system volume.
- The malware drops a ransom note provided by the C2
server in all directories with encrypted files and on the desktop of
the current user:
- The malware drops an image on the desktop of the current
- The malware creates the registry key HKCU\Software\Locky.
- id is set to a unique identifier generated for the compromised system.
- pubkey is set to a binary buffer that contains a public RSA key.
- paytext is set to a binary buffer containing the recovery instructions.
- completed is set to 1.
- The malware
changes the desktop background to a bitmap containing the ransom
- HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\Wallpaper is set to: %CSIDL_DESKTOPDIRECTORY%\_Locky_recover_instructions.bmp
Command and Control (CnC)
- The malware communicates with the following hard-coded hosts
using HTTP over TCP port 80. The malware also uses a domain name
generation algorithm as described below.
- The malware beacon builds a HTTP POST request to /main.php as shown in Figure 9. The POST data is encoded using a custom algorithm.
Figure 9. HTTP POST request polling packet (general packet structure)
Domain Generation Algorithm (DGA)
This sample contains a domain name generation algorithm that is based on the current month, day and year. There are eight possible domains per day and the domains change on the first of the month and on even numbered days. Figure 10 contains Python code to generate the eight possible domain names for the current date.
Figure 10. Locky Domain Generation Algorithm