Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint

10/15/2019
05:30 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Sodinokibi Ransomware: Where Attackers' Money Goes

Researchers following the ransomware variant uncover new data on how much its affiliates earn and where they spend it.

Ransomware generates massive profits for its operators. How much do they make, and how do their spend their illicit earnings? Newly published research on Sodinokibi ransomware sheds some light on this.

The McAfee Advanced Threat Research (ATR) team has been investigating ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) Sodinokibi, also known as Sodin or REvil, since it was spotted in the wild back in April. Around the same time, GandCrab's operators announced their retirement. Secureworks analysis showed Gold Garden, the group behind GandCrab, is also behind REvil ransomware.

From the start, it was clear Sodinokibi was a serious threat. It was first seen propagating by exploiting a vulnerability in Oracle's WebLogic server; however, its affiliates have several tactics. Some attackers exploited a Windows privilege escalation bug, Kaspersky Lab researchers found.

Given the severity of Sodinokibi's attacks, in particular those targeting US managed services providers, McAfee's team wanted to take a deeper dive, says John Fokker, head of cyber investigations. ATR researchers are now publishing a series of blog posts to detail their findings on Sodinokibi and its connections to GandCrab. The first in the series digs into the code and inner workings of the ransomware; the second analyzes affiliate structures in RaaS campaigns. Affiliates are the attackers who buy ransomware from Sodinokibi's operators and deploy it.

Part three uncovers new information on the size and associated revenue of the Sodinokibi campaign. Researchers linked underground forum posts with Bitcoin transfer traces to learn more about how the threat has grown and what affiliates do with the money they generate.

Sodinokibi generates a unique Bitcoin wallet for each victim, a tactic Fokker says is "quite similar" to other types of ransomware he's studied. He also points to attackers' heavy reliance on a prominent Bitcoin mixing service called Bitmix.biz, which obfuscates the origins of transactions so it's difficult to connect funds from an infection to a final wallet or cashout.

"We see it pop up quite regularly in the payments we've been tracking," he says of the mixer.

But some attackers were confident enough to share information that helped the researchers. One underground forum post discussed attackers' success and offered a 60% cut to Sodinokibi affiliates. After three successful payments, the affiliate would receive 70% of the ransom. This is a common strategy, also seen in GandCrab and Cryptowall, Fokker explains in a blog post.

An attacker, operating under the alias "Lalartu," commented on this post. A look back in the archives revealed additional comments from Lalartu, one of which included partial transaction IDs on the Bitcoin ledger, along with transfer amounts. With some help from Chainanalysis software, researchers used this information to retrieve the full transaction IDs and map them.

Following the Money

Analysis revealed a "very, very profitable business – and a big business too," Fokker says. Sodinkibi's tendency to target MSPs enables affiliates to infect thousands of victims with little activity and a relatively small number of samples and versions, which he calls "a game changer."

Various samples showed around 0.44-0.45 Bitcoin, or $4,000 USD, in payment; however, researchers note the average ransom ask is $2,500-$5,000 USD. When a victim pays an affiliate's wallet, it takes an average of two to three transactions before it reaches its final destination. From there, researchers saw the split between affiliates and Sodinokibi operators: 60-70% stays with the attacker, and the remaining 40-30% is forwarded along to the operators.

Considering the split between affiliates and operators, this gives the former an average of $700-$1,500 per paid infection. Some of these funds are transferred from a victim's wallet; other Bitcoins are bought at an exchange and transferred to an affiliate's wallet. Based on the list Lalartu shared, and the average value in Bitcoin at the time, an average of $287,499 was transferred within 72 hours – generating $86,000 in profit for the operators from one affiliate.

Based on analysis of the samples and amount of transaction ID numbers, researchers counted more than 41 active Sodinokibi affiliates and report a high number of infections in a short period of time. "Taken this velocity combined with a few payments per day, we can imagine that the actors behind Sodinokibi are making a fortune," Fokker points out in the blog.

What do the affiliates do with their cut? To find out, researchers chose a wallet and followed its transactions. Most have money transferred through an exchange; some goes to services and some to Bitmix.biz to conceal activity. In some instances, affiliates paid for services bought on Hydra Market, a Russian underground market for services and illicit products paid for in Bitcoin. Fokker doesn't believe they're shopping for malware, as they have more sophisticated means, but this does demonstrate how ransomware is supporting ongoing criminal activity.

It's unclear where Sodinokibi's operators may be from, but Fokker notes there is a strong affiliation with the former Soviet Union. This doesn't necessarily mean the actors are Russian – they could be from any nation – though he points to the tendency of Sodinokibi to work with Russian-speaking individuals and avoid encryption of any former Soviet-affiliated countries. This could indicate affiliates are of that nationality and trying to avoid prosecution of their country.

Related Content:

This free, all-day online conference offers a look at the latest tools, strategies, and best practices for protecting your organization’s most sensitive data. Click for more information and, to register, here.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Crypt0L0cker
50%
50%
Crypt0L0cker,
User Rank: Strategist
10/17/2019 | 10:52:21 AM
RE:Sodinokibi Ransomware: Where Attackers' Money Goes
Kind of surprised, I was pretty sure that this is Chinese hacker group... What are the names of those underground forums, which are talked about in the article?
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
Data breaches and regulations have forced organizations to pay closer attention to the security incident response function. However, security leaders may be overestimating their ability to detect and respond to security incidents. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-1927
PUBLISHED: 2020-04-02
In Apache HTTP Server 2.4.0 to 2.4.41, redirects configured with mod_rewrite that were intended to be self-referential might be fooled by encoded newlines and redirect instead to an an unexpected URL within the request URL.
CVE-2020-8144
PUBLISHED: 2020-04-01
The UniFi Video Server v3.9.3 and prior (for Windows 7/8/10 x64) web interface Firmware Update functionality, under certain circumstances, does not validate firmware download destinations to ensure they are within the intended destination directory tree. It accepts a request with a URL to firmware u...
CVE-2020-8145
PUBLISHED: 2020-04-01
The UniFi Video Server (Windows) web interface configuration restore functionality at the “backup� and “wizard� endpoints does not implement sufficient privilege checks. Low privileged users, belonging to the PUBLIC_GROUP ...
CVE-2020-8146
PUBLISHED: 2020-04-01
In UniFi Video v3.10.1 (for Windows 7/8/10 x64) there is a Local Privileges Escalation to SYSTEM from arbitrary file deletion and DLL hijack vulnerabilities. The issue was fixed by adjusting the .tsExport folder when the controller is running on Windows and adjusting the SafeDllSearchMode in the win...
CVE-2020-6009
PUBLISHED: 2020-04-01
LearnDash Wordpress plugin version below 3.1.6 is vulnerable to Unauthenticated SQL Injection.