Ransomware-as-a-Service, Open-Source Malware Fueling Attack Spikes in 2019

Ransomware is too lucrative to fade away. Its brilliance is in its simplicity. And shifting trends make it easier than ever to leverage in cybercriminal activity.

As each passing day presents us with a new ransomware victim, we can clearly see that ransomware is here to stay — and businesses and organizations should invest now to protect their brand, networks, data and customers.

According to the mid-year update of the 2019 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report, ransomware volume raced to 110.9 million in the first half of 2019 — a 15% year-to-date increase over 2018.

The most alarming ransomware data was sourced from the U.K. After enjoying a 59% decline in ransomware in 2018, the region saw ransomware volume jump 195% year-to-date for the first half of the year.

RaaS, open-source malware on the rise

But it’s not just about volume. Globally, cybercriminals continue to pivot toward new tactics. Exclusive SonicWall data highlights an escalation in ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) and open-source malware kits in the first half of 2019.

Cerber has long been one of the most powerful and damaging ransomware families in use. This is primarily because it is available as a service offering for low monthly prices.

Other ransomware — like HiddenTear and Cryptojoker — are available via open-source kits. This means that criminals with very basic coding skills can grab an open-source malware and customize it to meet their objectives. In many cases, this changes the core of the malware and helps it evade signature-only security controls (e.g., antivirus, unsupported firewalls).

In June 2019 alone, SonicWall Capture Labs threat researchers logged more than 3 million hits by the Cerber.G_5 RaaS signature alone.

FY 2018 1H 2019
Family Volume Type Family Volume Type
Cerber 101.6 Million RaaS Cerber 39.5 Million RaaS
BadRabbit 7.8 Million Custom Gandcrab 4.0 Million RaaS
Dharma 7.3 Million Custom HiddenTear 4.0 Million Open Source
LockyCrypt 6.1 Million Custom CryptoJoker 2.4 Million Open Source
CryptoJoker 5.6 Million Open Source Locky 1.8 Million Custom
Locky 2.4 Million Custom Dharma 1.5 Million Custom
Petya 1.9 Million Custom

As more RaaS and open-source options are available, the volume and ferocity of ransomware attacks will only increase. While there are only so many bona fide malware authors creating new ransomware, these services will ensure cybercriminals have plenty of variants to purchase or obtain freely on the Dark Web.

What is ransomware as a service (RaaS)?

Ransomware as a service, or RaaS, is no different than any legitimate cloud-hosted service used by businesses every day. Instead of buying software, you subscribe to a service delivery model to reduce CapEx, always have the latest offerings, gain predictable pricing and receive support.

Legitimate or note not, business models always have to tackle the method of distribution. Will they sell directly to end users, through a channel of distributors or a mix of both?

The same holds true with ransomware developers. Many are electing to take their successful code and sell it as a kit, which eliminates many risks and the hard work of distribution — all the while collecting a cut of the prize.

BleepingComputer offered an informative breakdown on how a typical payment model would work.

“Unlike most ransomware-as-a-service offerings, in order to become an affiliate a would-be criminal has to pay to join a particular membership package,” BleepingComputer wrote. “These packages range from $90 USD, where the affiliate earns 85% of the ransom payments, to $300 and $600 packages where the affiliates keep all of the revenue and gets extra perks such as Salsa20 encryption, different ransomware variants, and different payment cryptocurrency options.”