Hackers demand $70 million to end biggest ransomware attack on record

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Cybersecurity teams are working feverishly to stem the impact of the single biggest global ransomware attack on record, with some details emerging about how the Russia-linked gang behind it breached the company whose software was the conduit.

An affiliate of the notorious REvil gang, best known for extorting $11 million from the meat-processor JBS after a Memorial Day attack, infected thousands of victims in at least 17 countries on Friday, largely through firms that remotely manage IT infrastructure for multiple customers, cybersecurity researchers said.

REvil was demanding ransoms of up to $5 million, the researchers said. But late Sunday it offered in a posting on its dark web site a universal decryptor software key that would unscramble all affected machines in exchange for $70 million in cryptocurrency.

Earlier, the FBI said in a statement  that while it was investigating the attack its scale “may make it so that we are unable to respond to each victim individually.” Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger later issued a statement saying President Joe Biden had “directed the full resources of the government to investigate this incident” and urged all who believed they were compromised to alert the FBI.

Mr. Biden suggested Saturday the U.S. would respond if it was determined that the Kremlin is at all involved. Less than a month ago, he pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop giving safe haven to REvil and other ransomware gangs whose unrelenting extortionary attacks  the U.S. deems a national security threat.

On Monday, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked if Russia was aware of the attack or had looked into it. He said no, but suggested it could be discussed by the U.S. and Russia in consultations on cybersecurity issues for which no timeline has been specified.

Wide range of victims

A broad array of businesses and public agencies were hit by the latest attack, apparently on all continents, including in financial services, travel and leisure and the public sector, though few large companies, the cybersecurity firm Sophos reported. Ransomware criminals infiltrate networks and sow malware that cripples them by scrambling all their data. Victims get a decoder key when they pay up.

The Swedish grocery chain Coop said most of its 800 stores would be closed for a second day Sunday because their cash register software supplier was crippled. A Swedish pharmacy chain, gas station chain, the state railway and public broadcaster SVT were also hit.

In Germany, an unnamed IT services company told authorities several thousand of its customers were compromised, the news agency dpa reported. Also among reported victims were two big Dutch IT services companies, VelzArt and Hoppenbrouwer Techniek. Most ransomware victims don’t publicly report attacks or disclose if they’ve paid ransoms.

CEO Fred Voccola of the breached software company, Kaseya, estimated the victim number in the low thousands, mostly small businesses like “dental practices, architecture firms, plastic surgery centers, libraries, things like that.”

The company said Monday in a notice posted on its website that it “has unfortunately been the victim of a sophisticated cyberattack.”

Voccola said in an interview that only 50 to 60 of the company’s 37,000 customers were compromised. But 70% were managed service providers who use the company’s hacked VSA software to manage multiple customers. It automates the installation of software and security updates and manages backups and other vital tasks.

Strategic timing  

Experts say it was no coincidence that REvil launched the attack at the start of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, knowing U.S. offices would be lightly staffed. Many victims may not learn of it until they are back at work on Monday. Most end users of managed service providers “have no idea” whose software keep their networks humming, said Voccola,

Kaseya said it sent a detection tool to nearly 900 customers on Saturday night.

“We have been advised by our outside experts that customers who experienced ransomware and receive communication from the attackers should not click on any links  —  they  may be weaponized,” the company warned. 

The REvil offer to offer blanket decryption for all victims of the Kaseya attack in exchange for $70 million suggested its inability to cope with the sheer quantity of infected networks, said Allan Liska, an analyst with the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future. Although analysts reported seeing demands of $5 million and $500,000 for bigger targets, it was apparently demanding $45,000 for most.


The cost of ransomware attacks on businesses

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“This attack is a lot bigger than they expected and it is getting a lot of attention….



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