My final words on Ransomware (at least until next month)

Gavin Livingstone, Bryley Systems Inc.

Ransomware continues to grow at a rapid pace:

  • The FBI received over 2,400 Ransomware complaints in 2015
  • There was a 30% increase in Ransomware cases in Q1-20161
  • Ransomware infections in April 2016 more than doubled2

The most-popular variants and their distribution methods:

  • CryptoWall – Distributed through ZIP attachments on email files
  • Locky – Spreads through MS Office macros or JavaScript files
  • Samas – Propagates on vulnerable web servers

Why it is so attractive to cyber-criminals:

  • There is a direct path to immediate payment from the recipient (versus other, riskier, cyber-crime methods that require selling something, i.e.: credit-card information, to unknown parties that might be law enforcement)
  • It is easily spread through phishing (and now, vulnerable web servers)
  • The technology is constantly improving
  • Anyone and everyone is a target

The impact3:

  • Temporary or permanent loss of sensitive files and information
  • Significant disruption to daily operations during recovery
  • Financial impact to restore (or re-enter) encrypted files
  • Possible harm to the organization’s reputation

A few of the best defenses:

  • Backup your files at least daily and store these backups at a remote location3
  • Keep anti-virus/anti-malware software and operating systems up-to-date
  • Do not click on Web-links on an email or a website
  • Whitelist desired applications; blacklist all others
  • Restrict end-user access and permissions

1Please see “Q1 2016 saw a Record High for Ransomware” by Larry Loeb of Security Intelligence on May 24, 2016.

2Please visit “April 2016 was the Worst Month for Ransomware on Record in the US” by GoldSparrow in Computer Security articles at Enigma Software.

3Go to “Ransomware and Recent Variants” published by the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) on March 31, 2016.

4Visit “More Ransomware – Jeez I’m getting sick of this topic!” in the May 2016 edition of Bryley Information and Tips (BITs).

More Ransomware – Jeez, I’m getting sick of this topic!

Gavin Livingstone, Bryley Systems Inc.

Guess what:  Cyber crooks are killing it!  According to Kaspersky Labs, over 700,000 people late 2015/early 2016 gained the privilege of stress-testing their backup strategies or forking over money (and a comment on their vulnerability) to some overseas creeps who view every server and workstation as a potential cash cow; this was 5x the amount of people reporting similar issues in late 2014/early 2015.  And, the attacks are getting more sophisticated, and much more effective.

Sure, it is constantly in the news and we are all concerned, but many of us are like the proverbial Ostrich, sticking our proverbial (yes, I meant to repeat proverbial; I like the way it sounds; proverbial, proverbial, proverbial) heads in the sand.  And, it is costing us significant money!

To recover from Ransomware, we recommend backups that follow the 3:2:1 rule:

  • Three copies of your data
  • Two media types
  • One offsite

This simple rule, when followed diligently using a professional-grade backup application with at least daily, monitored, encrypted backups, can save your data from Ransomware, disasters, and other ills.  (Windows Server Backup, although improved, is not a professional-grade backup application since it lacks logging, which can lead to unintended consequences, particularly when swapping backup media on a daily basis and trying to verify previous, good backups.)

Case in point:  We saved an organization that relied on Windows Server Backup with a single, attached USB drive (no media swapping). It was attacked by Cerber Ransomware, which was inadvertently downloaded to the Windows PC of a user with administrative rights.  (Cerber Ransomware is licensed to cyber-criminals, who pay royalties for its use; these royalties are sent back to its originators in Russia.  It emerged in March 2016 and has recently targeted Microsoft Office365 users.)

The virus on the server went to high-value accounts, concentrating on encrypting data and Windows Server Backup files while making it appear that all files within most folders were already encrypted (although only about one in 10 had been encrypted initially).  Some interesting points:

  • The virus was injected into User Accounts in their AppData/Remote folder, which executed when the user logged onto the network.
  • Over 25,000 data files in about 1500 folders were encrypted.
  • All Windows Server backup files on attached drives were encrypted and renamed to @@@@@@@@.server with the current date or no date.
  • The requested ransom was $2,000; 2.725 bitcoins.

In broken English, the attackers noted:

  • “You have turned to be a part of a big community #CerberRansomware.”
  • “…we are the only ones who have the secret key to open them (your files).”
  • “Cerber … is not malicious and is not intended to harm a person…”
  • “…created for the sole purpose of instruction regarding information security.”

The upshot:

  • We rebuilt the server and reintroduced it to the network.
  • The Network Administrator’s workstation was wiped clean and rebuilt.
  • With significant effort, we recovered 90% of the company’s original data.
  • We now professionally backup this site using our remote Bryley BU/DR.


  • Anyone and everyone is a target; these criminals are happy to get a few hundred dollars each from millions of potential “customers”.
  • A solid backup plan is only one step in your line of defense; security requires a multi-layered approach.
  • Don’t pay cybercriminals; one Kansas hospital paid the ransom, and was told to pay again! Plus, you become an unwitting target for future attacks!

Please see these issues of Bryley Tips and Information (BITs):

Please also see Cyber-Security Firm:  Crypto-Ransomware Infections have reached Epidemic Level by Jonathan Keane of DigitalTrends on 6/24/2016.

Bryley Basics: How to identify the ransomware source on a computer network

Mike Carlson and Gavin Livingstone, Bryley Systems Inc.

Mike Carlson, CTO and a young, 20-year employee at Bryley Systems, had these suggestions on what to do when you get ransomware on your computer network:

  • Identify the end-user login name associated with the ransomware “How to decrypt” text files that are placed in the shared folders. (You would look at the properties of all of these text files to determine the originator.)
  • Remove this end-user’s workstation from the network immediately; preferably disconnect the network cable, but, if not feasible, power it down.
  • Restore all encrypted files from backup.
  • Erase the infected workstation(s) completely, then rebuild it.

In addition, we offered these suggestions in our July 2015 Bryley Information and Tips (BITs):

  • To be prudent, change online and system passwords
  • Create forensic images of infected computers
  • Preserve all firewall, Intrusion Prevention, and Active Directory logs for potential analysis by law-enforcement officials

These three can’t hurt, but the first one won’t stop the next attack and the last two are a bit of a stretch; it seems unlikely that the criminals will ever be pursued unless they happen to be working in this country (which also seems unlikely).

The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) defines ransomware, its variants, and some solutions at Alert TA16-091A, Ransomware and recent variants.

Bryley Basics: How ransomware (Crypto Locker) makes backups more critical

Ransomware – usually Crypto Locker and its variants – is a form of cyber-malware based on encryption software that seeks payment (ransom) to undo the damage; when infected, the malware typically encrypts all data files, rendering them useless until the ransom is paid.  (Encryption software scrambles a files’ contents and creates an encryption key, essentially a code used to reverse the process.  Unless you have this key and the encryption software, the files remain unreadable.)

Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe recently reported a ransomware infection at the Tewksbury Police Department; after repeated attempts to decrypt, the Chief of Police paid the ransom.

Other than paying the ransom, which is risky and not recommended since it potentially makes you more of a target in the future, the only way to thwart ransomware is by restoring the corrupted files through a backup that was created before the infection.

A properly planned and implemented backup process is vital since data stored on a network server represents many hours of effort over time, making it impractical and usually impossible to recreate.  A properly functioning, multi-point-in-time backup is necessary to provide restoration under these and other scenarios:

  • A server fails
  • A file is deleted
  • A template is written over
  • An application upgrade fails and must be restored
  • A document is inadvertently changed and saved by a user

A backup should be a complete, recoverable copy of not just data, but the entire server/network environment.  It should have these properties:

  • Sequenced over many days
  • Complete image
  • Offsite storage

For information on backups, visit our Data-Backup Guidelines.