Ransomware: A Persistent Scourge Requiring Corporate Action Now – June 2019



ASCO is the latest headline-making organization to be hit by ransomware, prompting many companies to consider what to do to minimize their risk.

A ransomware attack on Belgian airplane manufacturer ASCO this week is the latest in a string of incidents that show the unique danger lurking in this type of malware campaign. The rise of ransomware has cost companies millions to remediate – both in making payments and in system restoration and downtime – and should be prompting organizations of all sizes to take preventative measures.

ASCO, one of the world’s largest airplane suppliers, said this week that it shut down production in its factories in Canada, Germany and the U.S. after a ransomware infection crippled its plant in Zaventem, Belgium. About 1,000 of its 1,400 workers have been given leave for the week as the company works to remediate the issue, according to German media outlets. Whether ASCO has paid the ransom is unclear, but the impact on its operations is clearly severe. 

“Airplane manufacturer ASCO being hit by ransomware continues [the] trend of cybercriminals focusing their efforts on industry and manufacturing as their targets – recognizing the hugely costly and disruptive effect such a shutdown will have on the business,” said Shlomie Liberow, technical program manager at HackerOne, via email. “Public understanding of ransomware is on the rise, so if ASCO reacts quickly and in a way that keeps relevant stakeholders informed, hopefully it will see no lasting damage to reputation.”

According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), ransomware attacks are still going strong, accounting for nearly 24 percent of incidents where malware was used. And according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report,  1,493 ransomware attacks, resulting in losses of $3.6 million, were reported in 2018. And that represents only those attacks that were reported to directly to the FBI.

Also, while ransomware attacks are on the rise, so too is the scope of the attacks. Chris Dawson, threat intelligence lead at Proofpoint, said that recent incidents point to threat actors attempting to take advantage of deeper pockets and higher stakes to demand much larger ransoms – as opposed to previous campaigns, targeting individuals, that demanded hundreds of dollars to unlock an individual PC.

This is exemplified in a string of high-profile ransomware attacks on large municipalities, manufacturers and other companies over the past year, of which the ASCO incident is a continuation. In 2018, several Atlanta city systems were crippled after a ransomware attack extorted the municipality for $51,000. Although Atlanta officials were vocal about not paying the ransom, the city ended up spending $2.6 million to recover. These expenditures covered incident response and digital forensics, additional staffing and Microsoft Cloud infrastructure expertise.

The city of Baltimore is another recent victim of ransomware, which hit in May and halted some city services like water bills, permits and more. Like Atlanta, Baltimore officials refused to pay the $76,000 ransom – but ended up dishing out $18.2 million in restoration costs and lost revenue.

And in one of the most high-profile cases, Norsk Hydro fell victim in March to a serious ransomware attack that forced it to shut down or isolate several plants and send several more into manual mode. The attack ultimately cost the aluminum giant $40 million.

“The RobbinHood attack on the city of Baltimore fits with a theme that we’ve observed as ransomware in the malicious email space has largely dried up,” Dawson said in an email. “Instead of targeting individuals in high-volume email campaigns as we saw frequently in 2016 and 2017, threat actors are now using ransomware in targeted attacks against key targets for much larger ransoms. As with Norsk Hydro and other targeted organizations, it appears that threat actors make use of existing network and endpoint compromises to then load ransomware on vulnerable devices.”

That said, of course, in addition to these, plenty of non-household names are hit every day, too.

A ransomware attack will be costly and damaging, no matter the organization’s size: According to a SentinelOne report, the average cost of a ransomware attack is more than $900,000. This includes the ransom itself, downtime and lost productivity, remediation, legal costs and more.

“Businesses face numerous cyberthreats from hackers, but ransomware is particularly insidious and common,” Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN, told Threatpost. “When ransomware infects a server, it quickly spreads to encrypt all of the files on that server. Obviously, this can be disastrous for a business – all of its payroll, customer information, contracts and trade secrets all rendered inaccessible. Once it’s deployed, the hacker simply demands a ransom from the company before unlocking their files. That’s only if they’re honest, however.”

Regarding whether to pay, many organizations find themselves in a dilemma when hit by ransomware. The choice is often either to pay the ransom and hope the cyberattackers keep their word and deliver the decryption keys, or to pay a cybersecurity firm to perform remediation and cleanup, which can cost more than the actual ransom. The latter path is more ethical, avoiding sending money into criminal pockets. But the choice “to pay, or not to pay?” can be hard.

“It’s easy to say that companies should never pay, but it’s also quite unrealistic,” said Brett Callow, spokesperson for Emsisoft, in an interview with Threatpost. “The reality is that making payment may be the only option that will enable a company to become operational again within a reasonable period of time. It’s very much a case of ethics versus business necessity.”

He added, “it may be the only recovery option available. Second, some companies may believe that payment is the fastest route to becoming operational again. Third, in some instances, they may believe that making payment will enable them to avoid the matter coming to the attention of the public and their shareholders.”

Although some decryptor tools are available, remediation firms themselves often have no options to give their customers, if those customers haven’t fully backed up their data, according to at least one researcher.

“I have no doubt that there are many firms out there that offer ‘sophisticated tools and tactics’ to decrypt victims files for a hefty fee,” Tyler Moffitt, security analyst at Webroot, said by email. “It also doesn’t surprise me that the majority of the time all these firms do is pay the ransom and then charge the victim a premium. This is pretty much the only chance that these assistance firms would be able to actually retrieve files. Retrieving them without paying the ransom is very rare and again only available when criminals make mistakes, so for the most part getting these encryption keys is impossible without paying the ransom and dealing with the criminals directly.”

Ransomware can also have devastating effects on reputation, in addition to the hard costs associated with an attack. That’s something that payment won’t fix, but being transparent about what’s happened and why can go a long way to softening this particular blow, according to HackerOne’s Liberow.

For example, Norsk Hydro admitted the gritty details, such as the fact that it had to close down operations in several locations, and the fact that the incident cost it at least $40 million in the first week.

“Norsk showed the world that while ransomware is costly and devastating in the moment, it doesn’t have to have a lasting effect on reputation as the open and transparent way Norsk dealt with the attack resulted in a rise in share price,” Liberow noted.

Interestingly, Radiohead’s recent response to a ransomware attack  which involved releasing a trove of 18 previously unheard outtakes from their album “OK, Computer” rather than pay a $150,000 ransom demand  demonstrates the positive brand power of a non-negotiation philosophy in the face of cybercriminals, according to Peter Groucutt, managing director of Databarracks; it thwarted the criminals’ efforts while bringing good publicity.

“Releasing a collection of unheard songs, demos and outtakes, while unconventional, was a PR masterstroke by Radiohead,” Groucutt said. “This obviously isn’t a viable tactic for most businesses dealing with a ransomware attack, but we can learn from Radiohead’s defiance.”

The best approach to ransomware is to take your company off the target list. Basic security hygiene is the first step.

“Difficult as it may seem to prevent these attacks, when it comes to ransomware, prevention is always better than cure,” Liberow said. “This means ensuring all systems are up to date with the latest patches and that there are no security vulnerabilities or weaknesses which could leave an organization exposed to attackers.”

Another crucial aspect of preparing for an attack is simply to make sure you have an extra copy of your files available.

“To reduce the damage of any potential ransomware attacks, keep periodic secure backups of your data,” Markuson said. “This means that if a hacker breaks in and infects your business with ransomware, you can ignore their demands and rebuild your systems with the backed-up data (however, don’t forget that they may also have copied some of your data for themselves).”

The sheer pervasiveness of the ransomware scourge should be pushing all companies to invest in backups, Groucutt added.

“Given that ransomware attacks are becoming increasingly commonplace, there’s no excuse to be unprepared,” he said. “Agreeing to pay a ransom demand isn’t conducive to long-term security, and emboldens cybercriminals to continue to use this method. There is also a risk of looking like an easy target, potentially inviting further attacks.”

Lindsey O’Donnell also contributed to this report.

D-Synergy reposted 17th June 2019

NSA Warns Microsoft Windows Users: Update Now Or Face ‘Devastating Damage’



From Forbe.com Jun 7, 2019, 05:19am

I can’t recall ever seeing the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) jumping in and warning users of Microsoft Windows to check if their systems are fully patched and, if not, to update now or risk a “devastating” and “wide-ranging impact.” But that’s what has just happened.

In an advisory published this week, the NSA has urged “Microsoft Windows administrators and users to ensure they are using a patched and updated system in the face of growing threat.” That threat being BlueKeep, which has already been the focus of multiple “update now” warnings from Microsoft itself.

The NSA warning comes off the back of research that revealed just under one million internet-facing machines are still vulnerable to BlueKeep on port 3389, used by the Microsoft Remote Desktop feature, with nobody knows how many devices at risk within the internal networks beyond. The potential is certainly there for this threat, if exploited, to be on the scale of WannaCry.

It’s hard to know exactly why the NSA has decided to issue this advisory now, especially as it hasn’t gone through the more usual U.S.-Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) channel. “I suspect that they may have classified information about actor(s) who might target critical infrastructure with this exploit,” Ian Thornton-Trump, head of security at AmTrust International, told me, “that critical infrastructure is largely made up of the XP, 2K3 family.” This makes sense as although Windows 8 and Windows 10 users are not impacted by this vulnerability, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, Windows 7, Windows XP and Windows Vista all are.

John Opdenakker, an ethical hacker, agrees that it could well indicate the NSA is in possession of further threat intelligence regarding the BlueKeep threat. “If it’s actively being exploited, then I kind of understand why they would do it,” Opdenakker told me, adding, “it’s certainly not being exploited at scale though, otherwise we would have heard about it already.” The latter point being the important one as far as the “normal user” is concerned, in my opinion. There is little denying that, as Thornton-Trump puts it, “governments are more or less the ultimate authority; vetting, testing and intelligence all has to be assembled and internally red-teamed before an estimate of risk can be assigned.” Which leads to a time lag as intelligence agencies react to the dynamic nature of such exploit disclosures.

.end of article.


We recommend all our customers to update all their Microsoft Windows installations for all their desktops and servers.  – June 2019

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Fortinet – Critical Update: WannaCry Ransomware

re-post from Fortinet Blog 2017

Critical Update: WannaCry Ransomware

by RSS Aamir Lakhani  |  May 15, 2017  |  Filed in: Security Research

On May 12th, 2017 the ransomware WannaCry disrupted hundreds of organizations in dozens of countries. The ransomware encrypts personal and critical documents and files and demands approximately $300 USD in BitCoin currency for the victim to unlock their files.

It is important to note that Fortinet solutions successfully block this attack.

1. FortiGate IPS plugs the exploit

2. FortiSandbox detects the malicious behavior

3. Our AV engine detects the malware along with variants

4. Our Web filter identifies targeted sites and appropriately blocks or allows them

5. The FortiGate ISFW stops the spread of the malware

The worm-like behavior exhibited by this malware is due to an active probe for SMBv1 server port 445 on the local LAN searching for the presence of the Backdoor.Double.Pulsar. If the backdoor is present, the payload is delivered and executed through this channel. If not, a slightly less reliable exploitation route is taken.

For this reason, we are recommending that organizations (for now) block port 445 from the internet, or further, use NGFW capabilities to block the SMB protocol itself from the internet.

The malware is modular. This means that because it could grant the malicious actor super-user privileges on the infected device it would allow them to download additional malware and spoof URLs. In one case Fortinet observed, the malware first took advantage of vulnerability CVE-2017-0144 to gain access to the system. After that, a dropper was used to download ransomware that encrypts the files.

This vulnerability occurs because of an integer overflow when parsing a malformed Trans2 Request in the SMBv1 Server. Successful exploitation leads to code being executed in the context of the application. There is no need for authentication for this to be exploited, which has been key to the rapid onset of the outbreak in local area networks.


If the malware senses that a system has the Backdoor.Double.Pulsar installed, it will try to download and execute the payload using this method. Interestingly, in some samples we analyzed we discovered an unused flag to disable the DoublePulsar.

The malware is encrypted inside a dropper for a DLL encrypted with an AES key. Once executed, the malware drops a file named “t.wry.” The malware then uses the embedded AES key to decrypt the DLL that, once in memory, is loaded into the parent process, thereby never exposing the malware to disk. This is a feature that evades some AV engines.

There is support for 179 filetypes, and a key is generated for each file.

On Saturday, May 13th, a security researcher discovered the kill-switch for this malware. It was a DNS check on a domain name that at the time was unregistered. Once registered, the malware perceived that the domain was alive and the infection was halted.

Outbound TOR

The malware downloads a TOR client and starts to communicate to C&C servers via TOR protocol. We recommended that you block outbound TOR traffic. You can accomplish this on FortiGate devices by using the AppControl signatures.

You do this by going to security profiles, application control, and selecting add signature under “Application Overrides.”


Then add the Tor protocol:

You can now see it is being blocked

Make sure you use your application policy in a firewall policy to ensure it is activated.

Inbound TOR

Although, not necessarily needed, you might want to also consider blocking incoming traffic originating from the TOR network. Incoming traffic originating from the TOR network looks like any other Internet traffic. However, the origination point occurs on TOR exit nodes. A list of well-known exit nodes is listed and updated in the Fortinet Internet Service Database. You can use this pre-built list in a firewall policy.


If the malware is allowed to communicate, it will try to connect to several malicious domains. The Fortinet web filtering engine categorizes these known domains as malicious, and if configured correctly should block these domains as part of your firewall policies.

Kill Switch

The malware stops if it finds that the domain “www[.]iuqerfsodp9ifjaposdfjhgosurijfaewrwergwea[.]com” exists. While this domain originally did not exist, it does now as a malware researcher in the UK has registered it.

Note: Organizations that use proxies will not benefit from the kill switch. The malware is not proxy-aware, so it will not be able to connect to the kill-switch domain, and thus the malware will not be stopped.

For the kill switch to work the malware must be able to communicate with the kill switch domain. As it is in the best interest of having every opportunity to stop the malware, Fortinet has decided to not categorize the kill switch domain as malicious. However, reports as of May 14th, 2017 identified a version of the malware that bypasses the kill switch, making this an ineffective means of mitigation.

In fact, the kill switch now appears to be obsolete, as the attack is still ongoing and samples from these new waves include different domain names, or some don’t include a domain name kill switch at all.

Fortinet Protections to date

FortiGuard Labs is actively working with our CTA partners to share threat intelligence and ensure that all organizations have accurate information in order to ensure they are protected from this active threat.

Fortinet provides two primary IPS signatures to detect against the attack. They are:


(released March 14th, 2017, updated May 10th, 2017)


(released February 27th, 2017, updated May 1st, 2017)


Fortinet Anti-Malware/Anti-Virus engines have smart signatures enabled to detect the malware, along with behavior-based models to detect possible new variants.

The AV signatures are:
















Please note, some AV signatures require FortiGate devices to be configured using the extended antivirus definitions. In your FortiGate device you will want to select system, FortiGuard, and then enable extended AV and Extended IPS if available. Don’t worry if it is not. Many of our devices use this as the default option.

If the malware is allowed to execute, the malware will run the command icacls . /grant Everyone:F /T /C /Q  ,which gives full permissions to all files and folders where the malware is stored. Additionally, the malware clears windows shadow copies, disables Windows startup recovery, and clears the Windows Server Backup history.

After that, the encryptor will execute and make the files inaccessible. Once the ransomware executes, users get a similar warning message to the one shown below.

The ransomware will also drop a file named !Please Read Me!.txt with further instructions. The name of the file may change slightly with each infection.

The quick and easy money opportunity provided by ransomware makes it easy to see why it remains extremely profitable for attackers. How many users are paying the ransom? It is difficult to tell, because malware authors use multiple Bitcoin wallets to hide their tracks and are continuously transferring Bitcoins to and from these wallets.

Once infected, victims can try and recover their files through backups or other methods or pay the ransom. Below are links to three blockchain sites that gives some indication of the ransoms that have been collected. At the time of writing, the value of 1 Bitcoin equivalent to $1,784.90.



Total Received: 9.41458497 BTC



Total Received: 5.17934856 BTC



Total Received: 7.1629281 BTC



Total Received: 1.09469717 BTC


With just these three wallets linked to Wannacry, the ransomware has collected over $38, 833.82 USD from victims.


Finding the Malware

The Fortinet security fabric can greatly assist organizations in tracking down this malware and understanding where it may have infected the organization.




Observed C&C IPs
















Observed hash values SHA-256