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Extortion Emails by Bogus DarkSide Gang Targets Energy and Food Industry

 

In bogus extortion emails sent to firms in the energy and food industries, threat actors impersonate the now-defunct DarkSide Ransomware campaign. The Darkside ransomware attack first hit business networks in August 2020, asking millions of dollars in exchange for a decryptor and a pledge not to reveal stolen data. 

Following the ransomware gang's attack on the Colonial Pipeline, the country's largest petroleum pipeline, the ransomware gang was thrown into the spotlight, with the US government and law enforcement focusing their attention on the group. Because of the heightened scrutiny from law officials, DarkSide abruptly shut down its operations in May for fear of being arrested. 

Trend Micro researchers reveal in a new analysis that a new extortion campaign began in June, with threat actors imitating the DarkSide ransomware group. "Several companies in the energy and food industry have recently received threatening emails supposedly from DarkSide," explains Trend Micro researcher Cedric Pernet. "In this email, the threat actor claims that they have successfully hacked the target's network and gained access to sensitive information, which will be disclosed publicly if a ransom of 100 bitcoins (BTC) is not paid." 

The email campaign began on June 4 and has been targeting a few targets every day since then. Threatening emails were sent to the generic email accounts of a few firms. For each target, the Bitcoin wallet at the bottom of the email is the same. None of the aforementioned wallets have received or sent any Bitcoin payments. There has been no actual attack linked to the emails, and no new targets have been discovered. 

The researchers discovered that the same attacker had filled contact forms on many companies' websites in addition to sending targeted emails to them. The content of the web forms was identical to the text of the emails. They were able to obtain the sender's IP address, 205[.]185[.]127[.]35, which is a Tor network exit node. 

The threat actor appears to be exclusively interested in the energy (oil, gas, and/or petroleum) and food businesses, based on the telemetry data; in fact, all of their targets are in these industries. The campaign had the most impact on Japan, followed by Australia, the United States, Argentina, Canada, and India. China, Colombia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Thailand, and the United Kingdom are among the other countries affected.

Hacking Group DarkSide Attacks Colonial Pipeline With a Ransomware

Hacking group DarkSide, which was behind the recent ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, operates in a much common way than people assume. It works in a franchise manner, in a way that independent hackers would get to use ransomware software, along with the name of DarkSide, as the aim was to steal money from the victims, which are based in the US mostly. 

"Cybereason reports that DarkSide has a perverse desire to appear ethical, even posting its own code of conduct for its customers telling them who and what targets are acceptable to attack. Protected organizations not to be harmed include hospitals, hospices, schools, universities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Also apparently protected are entities based in former Soviet countries," says CNBC. Ransomware is a kind of harmful software that stops access to a computer when planted. In return for providing the access, hackers demand hefty ransom. 

Reports suggest that Colonial paid a sum of $5 million as a ransom to DarkSide. The business model upon which DarkSide operates, allows a hacker to carry out an attack without much computer knowledge, unlike earlier scenarios where it was much needed. It is because the hackers are provided readymade ransomware software from DarkSide. The hacker only has to perform a small task and the software takes care of the rest of it. As per the experts, DarkSide appears to be a new hacking group, but the experts know enough about it to get an idea about how dangerous it is. Experts say DarkSide provides a 'Ransomware as a service' business model. 

In simple terms, DarkSide hackers make ransomware tools and put them up in the market, where cybercriminals buy them and use them for their attacks. You may say it is an evil replica of silicon valley software startup. The FBI earlier this week confirmed that DarkSide was behind the Colonial Pipeline attack. CNBC says "DarkSide also maintains that it will donate a portion of its profits to charities, although some of the charities have turned down the contributions. Hackers continue to expand: Cybereason reports they recently released a new version of their malware: DarkSide 2.0."

Darkside Ransomware Gang Received Nearly $5 Million as the Extortion Amount from the Victims of Colonial Pipeline Attack

 

Security experts at London-based blockchain analytics firm Elliptic discovered the bitcoin wallet used by the ransomware group responsible for the Colonial Pipeline attack and the extortion amount received from victims. 

According to a report from blockchain analytics firm Elliptic, the ransomware gang Darkside received a ransom payment of 75 Bitcoin, or roughly $5 million, made by Colonial Pipeline on May 8 following the cyberattack on its operations.

The cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline led to widespread fuel shortages in the U.S. and has been described as the worst cyberattack on critical U.S. infrastructure to date. 

Security researchers first spotted the ransomware gang’s operation in August 2020 and nearly after 9 months in May 2021, the FBI confirmed the role of the Darkside ransomware gang in engineering the attack on Colonial Pipeline.

In total, just over $90 million in Bitcoin ransom payments were made to DarkSide, emerging from 47 distinct wallets. According to DarkTracer, 99 organizations have been attacked with the DarkSide malware – indicating that almost half of DarkSide victims paid a ransom and that the average payment was $1.9 million. DarkSide says it targets only big companies and forbids affiliates from dropping ransomware on organizations in several industries, including healthcare, funeral services, education, public sector, and non-profits. 

The firm also discovered a ransomware bitcoin payment made by Brenntag, a large chemical distribution company in Germany, totaling roughly $ 4.4 million. The group's wallet has been active since March 4, 2021, and has received 57 payments from 21 different wallets, according to Elliptic.

DarkSide and other ransomware groups have engineered the ransomware-as-a-service model, where the designers of the malware can effectively outsource the actual hacking and infecting of a target and then split whatever ransom comes in. The practice has democratized ransomware use, allowing less experienced cybercriminals to get in on the scam without any technical knowledge. 

"In this operating model, the malware is created by the ransomware developer, while the ransomware affiliate is responsible for infecting the target computer system and negotiating the ransom payment with the victim organization. This new business model has revolutionized ransomware, opening it up to those who do not have the technical capability to create malware, but are willing and able to infiltrate a target organization," Elliptic told.