Cuba Ransomware Group’s New Variant Found Using Optimized Infection Techniques
Trend Micro Research observed the resurgence of the Cuba ransomware group that launched a new malware variant using different infection techniques compared to past iterations. We discuss our initial findings in this report.
Cuba ransomware is a malware family that has been seasonally detected since it was first observed in February 2020. It resurfaced in November 2021 based on the FBI’s official notice, and has reportedly attacked 49 organisations in five critical infrastructure sectors, amassing at least US$ 43.9 million in ransom payments.
We observed Cuba ransomware’s resurgence in March and April this year. Our monitoring showed that the malware authors seem to be pushing some updates to the current binary of a new variant. The samples we examined in March and April used BUGHATCH, a custom downloader that the malicious actor did not employ in previous variants specifically for the staging phase of the infection routine.
In late April we also noticed another variant of the ransomware, this time targeting two organisations based in Asia. This blog entry focuses on our analysis of the latest samples uncovered from this period.
While the updates to Cuba ransomware did not change much in terms of overall functionality, we have reason to believe that the updates aim to optimise its execution, minimise unintended system behaviour, and provide technical support to the ransomware victims if they choose to negotiate.
Our analysis of the new variant revealed that the malicious actor added some processes and services to terminate the following:
Another apparent change is the expansion of the safelisted directories and file extensions that it will avoid encrypting:
- \program files\microsoft office\
- \program files (x86)\microsoft office\
- \program files\avs\
- \program files (x86)\avs\
- \system volume information\
- \users\all users\
- \users\default user\
We compared the new variant used in late April 2022 to the previous ones and found that the former did not have all the commands or functions that came with the latter. The malicious actors only retained two commands in the new one that are directory- or location-related phrases. These are as follows:
Notably, the wording of the ransom note used in the latest variant (see Figure 4) is different from the previous one that the malicious actors used in the samples we analysed in March this year, but the onion site indicated in both ransom notes is the same. The ransom note used in late April 2022 explicitly states that they will publish exfiltrated data on their Tor site if the victims refuse to negotiate after three days, an apparent use of the double extortion technique. The ransomware gang did not clearly state the threat of publication of stolen data in the ransom note dropped in March 2022 (see Figure 3).
Another new feature of the latest ransom note is the addition of quTox, a means for technical support to the ransomware victims to facilitate ransom payment negotiation.
We are still investigating the latest set of samples and have yet to establish the entire infection chain for the new Cuba ransomware variant. As mentioned, the indicators that were commonly seen in most of the recent infections were not present in the latest samples we saw. Moreover, our detections of new samples in May suggest that Cuba ransomware’s attacks will persist in the coming months, possibly with more updates to the malware that are par for the course.
As new malware variants emerge, a proactive cybersecurity stance is important to ensure that organisations are protected against modern ransomware threats. To defend systems against similar attacks, organisations can establish security frameworks that systematically allocate resources based on an enterprise’s needs.
Consider following the security frameworks established by the Center of Internet Security and the National Institute of Standards and Technology when developing your own cybersecurity strategies. The frameworks they created help security teams to mitigate risks and minimise exposure to threats. Implementing the best practices discussed in their respective frameworks can save organisations the time and effort when they customise their own. Their frameworks guide organisations through the whole process of planning while providing suggestions on measures that need to be established first.
Indicators of Compromise (IOCs)
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