By Jim Walter and Niranjan Jayanand
- Spook Ransomware is an emerging player first seen in late September 2021
- The operators publish details of all victims regardless of whether they pay or not
- Targets range across several industries with an emphasis on manufacturing
- Analysis shows a significant degree of code sharing between Spook and the Prometheus and Thanos ransomware families
Spook ransomware emerged onto the scene in late September 2021 and follows the multi-pronged extortion model that is all too common these days. Victims are hit with the threat of data destruction as well as public data leakage and the associated fallout. In this report, we explore how the malware shares certain similarities with earlier ransomware families, and describe its main encryption and execution behaviour.
Spook and Prometheus
There is some indication that Spook is either linked to, or derived from, Prometheus ransomware. Prometheus is itself an evolution of Thanos ransomware. However, it is important to note that since Thanos ransomware had a builder which was leaked, any real attempts at attribution based solely on the malware’s code is somewhat futile. Even so, there are a few notable similarities between Spook, Prometheus, and ultimately Thanos.
The .NET binary in the following sample, first seen in VirusTotal on 02 October, provides a glimpse into some of these similarities, with artifacts from the Thanos builder also apparent.
Our analysis suggests that there is an overlap of between 29-50% of shared code between Spook and Prometheus. Some of this overlap is related to construction of the ransom notes and key identifiers.
In addition to shared code artifacts, there are similarities with regards to the layout and structure of the Spook and Prometheus payment portals.
Below are the similarities between the leak data URLs hosted by both the groups
- Spook ransomware:
- Prometheus ransomware:
Offline Encryption and Process Manipulation
Spook, mirroring the manifestos of others, boasts “very strong (AES) encryption” along with the threat of leaking victim data to the public. The malware has the ability to encrypt target machines without requiring internet connectivity. Encryption of a full disk can occur within just a few minutes, at which point the ransom note is displayed on the desktop (
RESTORE_FILES_INFO.HTA) along with numerous other system notifications.
The malware also makes a number of changes to ensure that the ransom notifications are displayed prominently after reboot (via Start Menu lnk, Reg).
WinLogon is modified (via registry) to display the Ransom Note text upon login:
HKLM\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon Str Value: LegalNoticeCaption/Text
Ransom notes are also displayed upon login via a Shortcut placed in the Startup directory
In addition, Spook will attempt to terminate processes and stop services of anything that may inhibit the encryption process.
Here again there is overlap between Spook, Prometheus, and Thanos with regards to process discovery and manipulation, especially with regards to checking for and killing the Raccine anti-ransomware process that some organizations deploy in an effort to protect shadow copies.
TASKILL.EXE is used to force the termination of the following processes if found:
agntsvc.exe CNTAoSMgr.exe dbeng50.exe dbsnmp.exe encsvc.exe excel.exe firefoxconfig.exe hunderbird.exe infopath.exe isqlplussvc.exe mbamtray.exe msaccess.exe msftesql.exe mydesktopqos.exe mydesktopservice.exe mysqld-nt.exe Mysqld-opt.exe Mspub.exe mysqld.exe Ntrtscan.exe ocautoupds.exe ocomm.exe ocssd.exe onenote.exe oracle.exe outlook.exe PccNTMon.exe Powerpnt.exe RaccineSettings.exe sqbcoreservice.exe sqlagent.exe sqlbrowser.exe sqlservr.exe Sqlwriter.exe synctime.exe steam.exe tbirdconfig.exe thebat.exe thebat64.exe tmlisten.exe visio.exe winword.exe wordpad.exe xfssvccon.exe zoolz.exe
taskkill.exe /IM ocomm.exe /F
The Raccine product is specifically targeted with regards to disabling the products’ UI components and update features. These are carried out via basic OS commands such as
taskkill.exe /F /IM RaccineSettings.exe reg.exe (CLI interpreter) delete "HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run" /V "Raccine Tray" /F reg.exe (CLI interpreter) delete HKCU\Software\Raccine /F schtasks.exe (CLI interpreter) /DELETE /TN "Raccine Rules Updater" /F
sc.exe is used to disable specific services and components:
sc.exe config Dnscache start= auto sc.exe config SQLTELEMETRY start= disabled sc.exe config FDResPub start= auto sc.exe config SSDPSRV start= auto sc.exe config SQLTELEMETRY$ECWDB2 start= disabled sc.exe config SstpSvc start= disabled sc.exe config upnphost start= auto sc.exe config SQLWriter start= disabled
With various processes out of the way and the system in an optimal state for encryption, the malware proceeds to enumerate local files and folders, along with accessible network resources.
Given the Thanos pedigree, specifics around encryption can vary. The samples analyzed employ a random string at runtime as the passphrase for file encryption (AES). The string is subsequently encrypted with the attacker’s public key and added into the generated ransom note(s). Recovery of encrypted data is, therefore, not possible without the corresponding private key.
Ransom Payment and Victimology
Upon infection, victims are instructed to proceed to Spook’s TOR-based payment portal.
At the payment portal, the victim is able to interact with the attackers via chat to negotiate payment.
Spook has been leveraging attacks against high-value targets across the globe, with little to no discretion with regards to industry. Looking at the current cross-section of victims posted on the group’s web site, however, the majority are in the manufacturing sector.
The public blog went live in early October 2021. At the time of writing, there are 17 victims posted on the Spook site.
Spook actually lists all attacked companies, regardless of whether or not they pay the ransom demand. Those victims that pay have their entry updated to indicate that the company’s data is ‘not for sale’. Those that have not paid are listed as having data that is “For Sale”, while some victim entries, presumably the most recent or those that are in the process of negotiating, are listed as “Company Decides”.
As these attacks continue to escalate and become more egregious, the need for true attack prevention is all the more critical. Spook’s tactic of public outing victims even if they pay threatens reputational harm to any compromised company, even if they follow the attackers’ payment demands.
This only continues to illustrate the importance of preventing attacks in the first place. Ransomware operators have moved beyond worrying about companies detecting after-the-fact and attempting to recover encrypted data.
Indicators of Compromise
TA0005 – Defense Evasion
T1486 – Data Encrypted for Impact
T1027.002 – Obfuscated Files or Information: Software Packing
T1007 – System Service Discovery
T1059 – Command and Scripting Interpreter
T1112 – Modify Registry
TA0010 – Exfiltration
T1018 – Remote System Discovery
T1082 – System Information Discovery
T1547.004 – Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Winlogon Helper DLL
T1547.001 – Boot or Logon Autostart Execution: Registry Run Keys / Startup Folder
Spook Ransom Note Sample