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4 min read

The Clowns and Fools Behind Ransomware Attacks

Mar 11, 2024 9:39:56 AM

Cybersecurity professionals have been keeping a close eye on the shake-ups in ransomware over the past few weeks. While many ransomware victims believe they are dealing with highly sophisticated threat actors, these cyber criminals are often one argument away from collapse. CEO Kurtis Minder was featured in the Axios Codebook Newsletter last week discussing the ongoing ransomware attack carried out by ALPHV on healthcare giant Change Healthcare. Learn more from the excerpt below or read the full article here.

Driving the news: Insurance billing tool Change Healthcare has entered its third week of service disruptions following a ransomware attack on Feb. 21.

  • But this week, the ransomware gang behind the attack self-imploded while trying to scam its members out of their share of Change Healthcare's reported $22 million ransom payment.
  • After a freelance hacker posted on a dark web forum that they hadn't received their payment, ALPHV (also known as BlackCat) claimed it had been seized by law enforcement and forced to shut down.
  • However, law enforcement agencies have said they actually didn't take the group down — again.
  • Change Healthcare has not commented on whether it paid a ransom.

The big picture: Cybercriminals have long been willing to scam one another and rat each other out to get ahead.

  • A 2022 report from Sophos found that cybercriminals on three dark web forums lost at least $2.5 million to scams in the course of a year.
  • REvil, a now-defunct ransomware group, reportedly cheated its own freelance hackers out of payments in 2021.
  • Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, a member of the Conti ransomware gang leaked a trove of internal files about the group's inner workings.

Zoom out: Entry-level hackers have become more valuable in the last five years as the ransomware-as-a-service model has taken over the criminal underground, says Turgal, who is now vice president of cyber risk at Optiv.

  • These hackers can lease out a ransomware developer's malware to use in their own attacks, and everyone splits whatever victim payments come in.
  • "They are a much younger demographic," Turgal says. "They're a 20-something who has been coding all their life ... and that totally feeds their egos."
  • But this splintering between ransomware operators and these freelance hackers has prompted constant in-fighting on dark web forums, Kurtis Minder, CEO of ransomware negotiation firm GroupSense, tells Axios.

Between the lines: Victims still think they're up against a far savvier adversary when facing a ransomware attack, Minder says.

  • "The unfortunate story is that you don't have to be a cyber genius" to conduct a ransomware attack, he says.
  • This perception can prompt victims to pay millions of dollars, with the hope that gangs will unlock their systems and delete any stolen data.
  • Even after victims pay up, hackers don't always delete stolen information — as seen in the evidence uncovered in a recent law enforcement takedown of the LockBit gang.

Yes, but: If ransomware gangs keep refusing to delete data and unlock systems, eventually victim companies might learn and stop paying them, Christopher Budd, head of Sophos' X-Ops team, tells Axios.

  • Getting to that point will likely take "a series of catalyzing moments," he adds.
  • "You have to shake people out of the five stages of grief, you have to shake them out of denial and get them moving forward," Budd says.
Topics: News Ransomware

Written by Editorial Team