Ransomware as a Service: When Criminals Mimic Corporations

Cyber Security St. Louis Ransomware Small Business

When you imagine cyber criminals planning ways to infect hundreds of thousands of computers, you probably don’t picture sophisticated marketing operations and software licensing, but you’d be surprised. The black market on the Dark Web is much like any other online store where you purchase goods, only its products are more nefarious. Cyber criminals copy the techniques used by corporations to increase profits by authoring and distributing ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS). RaaS enables less tech-savvy cyber criminals to quickly set up shop, and often includes “customer support,” easy-to-use dashboards, and guides on how to most effectively distribute ransomware onto victims’ machines.

The Ransomware As A Service (RaaS) Business Model

This is not a recent development. RaaS has been used since 2016, and has proved to be a lasting business model for cyber criminal organizations. These organizations utilize modern marketing and corporate strategies to get their “customers” to choose their ransomware services over other offerings on the Dark Web.

How Does RaaS Work?

In a traditional software business model, a user pays a one-time fee to buy a license for a specific version of the software outright. There are no other costs throughout the life of the software, but if the user wants to upgrade to a newer version, the software must be purchased again. But being required to buy each new version that’s released can be financially impossible for some consumers. That’s where software-as-a-service (SaaS) comes in.

With SaaS, the user can “rent” the software for a monthly fee, giving the user the most current version of the software at a greatly reduced upfront cost. But unlike traditional software purchasing, if the user ends their subscription, they lose access to the software.

On the Dark Web, RaaS utilizes both these business models. Instead of a bad actor authoring and distributing their own ransomware onto victims’ computers, cyber criminals pay for someone else’s ransomware strain. This allows even those who don’t have the skills necessary to create their own ransomware strain to enter the ransomware market.

This arrangement is beneficial to the author of the ransomware, as well. In addition to the subscription price, the author often gets a cut of each ransom paid. The more subscribers who buy and distribute their ransomware, the more money the author makes without needing to infect a single computer themselves.

This is where RaaS mimics legitimate businesses. Some ransomware authors sell licenses using the traditional software business model. When a cyber criminal buys the ransomware license, they are free to use it as much as they want. Other ransomware authors have adopted the modern subscription model of SaaS. As a subscription, buyers have to continue to pay monthly or by number of infected computers. In return, the ransomware they “rent” receives updates and continued support from the author. To entice cyber criminals to choose their strain, some authors will offer discounts or adjust their cut of the ransom. Some even provide tutorials and customer support to buyers to help with distribution.

Ransomware Finds New Ways to Make Victims Pay Up

The authors of ransomware strains aren’t the only ones offering customer support. For several years now, criminal organizations spreading ransomware have provided customer support representatives to facilitate payments, such as helping victims buy bitcoin or walking them through the payment process. Sometimes these customer support reps even lower the ransom for victims unable to pay the requested amount.

While offering customer service may seem absurd for a criminal enterprise, the newest extortion method fits right in. The threat of ransomware includes not only the loss of data but also the weaponization of that data by bad actors. Until now, the risks associated with not paying the ransom have been limited to criminals farming the encrypted data for credentials or losing the data altogether. Now a new type of extortion is threatening to come to the forefront.

To thwart the growing number of businesses taking cyber security seriously and ensuring they have reliable backups in case of a ransomware attack, cyber criminals now threaten to release the unencrypted data they steal if the businesses choose not to pay the ransom. Those behind the Maze ransomware strain have a public website listing the names of businesses they’ve infected, as well as details about the attack and documents stolen from infected systems. The Allied Universal data breach and release was Maze’s first victim to be publicly exposed in this way.

What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Ransomware?

When it’s not only loss of data but release of data that is the danger, the usual mantra of back up your data doesn’t cut it anymore. With this evolving threat landscape, prevention is the key to security.

In addition to basic security measures that all businesses should implement, intrusion detection is essential to modern cyber security. Bad actors are often in compromised systems for days or weeks before the actual ransomware attack happens. They can search files, disable security measures, corrupt backup systems, and more to make the business as vulnerable as possible. Identifying the problem when the intrusion first happens could save not only your money but your data and reputation as well.

Other precautions include encrypting all sensitive data so hackers can’t access it, having strong user access controls and passwords, and restricting administrator access to necessary IT personnel. This limits the amount of data criminals can access if they were to penetrate your systems.

Most of all, train your employees how to identify phishing methods and signs their computer may be compromised. Employees are the front line of defense against infection. Make sure everyone is trained at least annually to stay up to date with new ransomware strategies so that they and you don’t become unwilling customers of the ransomware business model.

If you need help shoring up your defenses against ransomware or need employee training, contact Anderson Technologies today!