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Why Users Fall For Ransomware

Published: 2016-03-21
Last Updated: 2016-03-21 19:17:53 UTC
by Johannes Ullrich (Version: 1)
3 comment(s)

We got the following message from our reader Steven:

"Yesterday I received an email regarding "STEVEN, Notice to Appear in Court on March 28", which included a ZIP folder attached. I am actually scheduled to appear in court on March 28th, so I assumed it was legit. I scanned the ZIP folder with Avast, and it said there was no problem.

un-zipped the folder and scanned the .doc.js file with Avast, and it said there was no problem. So I double clicked on the .doc.js file. Nothing happened. I then changed the file name, removing .js from the extension. I clicked on the file and it opened in Word. Upon seeing the mess of text letters, I became alarmed and then found your webpage:

I think the message does make some important points: Malicious spam does work. It just has to hit the right person. Just like Steven had a court appointment, others may be waiting for a shipping confirmation or are waiting for an airplane ticket they just booked. Attacks do not have to work every time, and even a relatively small success rate is still a "win" for the attacker.

In this case, I ran the script in a Windows 8.1 virtual machine. Windows Defender blocked it (the only anti-Malware I have on the system). The javascript then as expected downloaded crypto-ransomware. The ransomware went ahead and renamed various files by adding the .crypted extension, and went ahead encrypting files. 

Anti-Virus coverage was pretty decent for the unzipped attachment according to Virustotal. But it looks like Steven's copy of Avast did let this sample slip past. 

Doing a quick analysis of the PCAP, it looks like the actual malware was downloaded from / counter/?ad=1N....[long string]&dc=[6 digit number]

Anti-Virus coverage on the binary is mixed, with Symantec identifying it as Cryptolocker: 

Johannes B. Ullrich, Ph.D.

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