At SecurityScorecard, we like to look ahead and focus on the future. However, the past can also teach us some valuable lessons, particularly in cybersecurity. 2022 was quite an eventful year in the space, with many high-profile attacks, including full-blown cyber warfare.
Out of all threats we saw this past year, a few stood out. This article will cover seven of the most dangerous cyber threats of 2022, in no particular order. Cyber gangs and malware strains are known to appear and disappear in no time, but most of these will continue to be a threat well into 2023
LockBit Ransomware (+ leaked builder)
The LockBit intrusion set has been very active in 2022. After emerging in 2019 as ABCD ransomware, LockBit has become one of the most sophisticated ransomware families, with strong malware capabilities and a thriving affiliate program.
The affiliate program is what makes LockBit such a widespread threat. With a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) model, LockBit allows willing parties to put a deposit down for custom for-hire attacks. The ransom payment is divided between LockBit developers and the attackers after a successful extortion.
Lateral movement is common among ransomware families, including LockBit. After the first host is infected, the malware automatically detects other accessible hosts and spreads throughout the environment.
In June 2022, the LockBit ransomware gang launched the latest variant of their malware, called LockBit 3.0, which comes with a bug bounty program with rewards ranging from $1,000 to $1 million. The gang has historically targeted organizations in the healthcare and education sectors, which has only accelerated with the release of the latest variant. In June 2022 alone, LockBit claimed responsibility for 50 attacks.
In September 2022, a disgruntled LockBit developer leaked the LockBit 3.0 builder. You can read a technical analysis of the leaked builder here.
Emotet is a banking Trojan that first appeared in 2014. It is mainly distributed through spam emails which pretend to come from familiar brands. The emails typically contain messaging such as “Your invoice” or “Payment details” to trick users into clicking the malicious links.
Emotet has worm-like capabilities, which allow it to spread between connected computers. This makes it highly destructive, costing over $1 million per incident. Additionally, Emotet uses techniques to prevent detection. Notably, it can detect if it’s running in a sandbox environment (virtual machine) and will remain inactive to avoid detection.
In connected networks, Emotet spreads using a list of common passwords via brute force attacks. That’s why it’s vital to protect your environment with strong passwords.
Active since 2008, QakBot is a constantly-evolving trojan designed to steal passwords. It spreads via an email-driven botnet that inserts replies in active email threads. More recently, threat actors have started various techniques to avoid detection, such as:
ZIP file extensions
Enticing file names with common file formats
Malicious Excel macros
QakBot files generally contain keywords typical of business and financial documents. This increases the chances of infection since users are more likely to see the items as everyday business files or a chance to look at new data.
Organizations must train employees against opening attachments from unknown or unverified senders. Additionally, employees should verify URLs before entering their credentials.
Black Basta Ransomware
A relative newcomer, Black Basta has wasted no time in emerging as one of the most dangerous ransomware gangs in 2022. It was first spotted in April and had affected 90 high-profile organizations worldwide by September. Most of these organizations are U.S. based, while a significant number are in Germany.
The high number of infections in a short time tells us that the operation is highly organized and well-funded. Black Basta is more selective in choosing its targets, and has carved out a niche in the RaaS marketplace with advanced double-extortion tactics.
Black Basta may be a rebranding of the notorious Conti ransomware gang, which unloaded several devastating attacks in 2022, including the one on the Costa Rican government, which caused millions in damages. The timing of BlackBasta’s emergence correlates with when Conti shut down its operations.
The initial infection from the ransomware comes through QakBot delivered via email or malicious Microsoft Office attachments. Click here for a detailed technical analysis from SecurityScorecard of the Black Basta ransomware.
BumbleBee is a highly-sophisticated malware mainly distributed via phishing emails. It’s linked to several high-profile ransomware operations, including Conti and Quantum. BumbleBee specializes in stealth, with several evasion functionalities, including anti-virtualization.
BumbleBee was a cornerstone in several waves of ransomware attacks throughout 2022. Attackers have used different techniques to distribute the malware. One is a phishing email containing an ISO file that executes BumbleBee once the attachment is opened.
What makes BumbleBee particularly dangerous is its constant evolution, making it unpredictable. The malware uses a different payload based on the type of environment it’s in. For example, the malware drops a sophisticated post-exploitation tool such as Cobalt Strike in systems that share the same Active Directory server. Conversely, on a system that’s part of a work group, BumbleBee typically drops banking and other information stealers.
Raccoon Stealer v2
In March 2022, Raccoon Stealer administrators announced the end of the first version of the project. Two months later, in May, Raccoon Stealer v2 was released, with a high number of cases, collecting over 50 million credentials.
Raccoon Stealer costs $200 per month and gives cybercriminals a tool to obtain and exfiltrate sensitive data from a victim’s computer. Affiliates primarily distribute the info-stealer via SEO-optimized websites promoting free or cracked software.
When victims click the download link on these sites, they’re redirected to another site with instructions to download a password-protected RAR file. Opening the downloaded file causes the victim’s device to execute Raccoon Stealer v2.
It’s only fitting that Royal ransomware takes the crown as one of the top threats of 2022, largely because it’s still very active. Emerging in January 2022, Royal ransomware has been doing damage all year long, with alarmingly increasing activity in recent months. Even more alarming is their relentless targeting of healthcare organizations, particularly in the U.S.
Despite Royal being a relatively new operation, the threat actors behind it are likely very experienced based on their tactics and techniques. Their ransom demands have ranged from $250k to $2 million. The ransom note is titled “Readme.txt”. You can see a real example of a Royal ransom note here.
The Royal malware is a 64-bit Windows executable written in C++. It’s launched via the command line, requiring a real human to trigger the infection after obtaining access to a targeted environment.
Some of the main ways Royal ransomware spreads is through malicious links delivered via:
Fake forum pages
Royal ransomware deletes volume shadow copies on the system and utilizes the OpenSSL cryptographic library to encrypt files to the AES standard. Unlike other similar malware, this one appends the affected files with a “.royal” extension.
For an in-depth look at how Royal ransomware works, read SecurityScorecard’s technical analysis here.
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