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Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS): A Serious Cyber Threat

  • Ashesh Anand
  • Nov 24, 2022
Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS): A Serious Cyber Threat title banner

The threat posed by ransomware as a service (RaaS) to cybersecurity data and systems is significant. RaaS offers simple subscription-based access to ransomware to users with little to no programming experience, much like software-as-a-service. Organizations continue to face serious danger from ransomware, and that threat is only getting worse. 

 

Attacks using ransomware are on the rise, with a 25% increase from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020, according to Beazley Group research.

 

RaaS is becoming more and more popular, thus businesses and organizations of all sizes should be knowledgeable on how to lessen their vulnerability to RaaS attacks. We'll go through what RaaS is, how the technology and business model function, and how to stop assaults.

 

Strong encryption is used by ransomware to lock and cage specific data, making it nearly hard to decode them without a key or by exploiting vulnerabilities in the encryption process. Attacks using ransomware are often opportunistic and infect a wide range of accessible targets in an effort to maximize their financial benefit. After encrypting a victim's data with ransomware, the attacker sends a ransom letter demanding money for a decryption program to free the captive data. 

 

The victims are forced to pay the ransom or lose their files unless organizations have a backup strategy to restore their data or the encrypted files are worthless. It's important to note that even if the victims pay the ransom, they could not get their data back. The FBI advises against paying the attackers' ransom, and the U.S. Treasury Department is currently looking at imposing financial penalties on businesses that do so in order to retrieve their data.

 

Also Read | How is Cryptocurrency being used in Cybercrime?


 

Ransomware as a Service: What Is It?

 

The well-known software as a service (SaaS) business model has been modified to create ransomware as a service (RaaS). RaaS is a subscription-based business model that enables affiliates to carry out ransomware attacks using premade ransomware tools. Then, a portion of each successful ransom payment goes to these affiliates. 

 

A low-code, software-as-a-service attack vector called ransomware as a service (RaaS) enables criminals to buy ransomware software on the dark web and carry out ransomware vulnerabilities without having to know how to code.

 

One common method of attack for RaaS exploits is phishing emails. The ransomware will download and spread laterally via the compromised machine to disable firewalls and antivirus software once the victim clicks on a malicious link in the attacker's email.

 

The RaaS software can hunt for ways to elevate privileges once the victim's perimeter defenses have been breached, and eventually hold the entire organization hostage by encrypting files to the point where they are unreachable. Once the victim has been informed of the attack, the program will provide them instructions on how to pay the ransom and (ideally) get the right cryptographic key for decryption.

 

Although RaaS and ransomware vulnerabilities are unlawful, criminals who carry out this kind of assault can be particularly challenging to apprehend because they utilize Tor browsers (also known as onion routers) to access their victims and demand bitcoin ransom payments.

 

Before the RaaS model was developed, hackers (or threat actors) need some level of programming knowledge to access or write code. With RaaS, however, hackers may now operate with little to no coding knowledge.

 

Anyone can carry out a ransom campaign thanks to the RaaS operations model, which offers customers expert-level software, codes to encrypt and decrypt data, phishing emails, ready-made points of entry for assaults, and round-the-clock assistance.

 

The fact that the affiliates have premade playbooks and how-to guides on how to carry out a successful assault is a crucial element of RaaS-style attacks. This allows them to rapidly and efficiently scan for target environments, run programs to gather user passwords, steal confidential information, and then mass-encrypt files.

 

Also Read | What are Ransomware Attacks and How can they be Prevented?


 

What is the Mechanism of Ransomware-as-a-Service?

 

Developers and Affiliates collaborate to carry out an effective RaaS attack. Developers are in charge of writing specialized ransomware malware, which is afterward sold to an affiliate. The ransomware code and instructions for launching the assault are provided by the developers. 

 

RaaS is simple to use and requires little technological knowledge. Anyone who has access to the dark web may enter the portal, join as an affiliate, and launch assaults with a single click. Affiliates choose the virus kind they want to distribute and make a payment using a cryptocurrency, usually Bitcoin, to get started. The developer and the affiliate divide the earnings when the ransom money is paid and the attack is successful. The type of revenue model determines how the funds are allocated.

 

The Four Revenue Models for RaaS:

 

Most RaaS agreements fit under one of the four revenue models listed below:

 

  • Recurring Monthly Subscription: Users pay a monthly fixed charge and receive a tiny cut of each successful ransom.

 

  • Affiliate Programs: With the intention of operating a more effective service and boosting earnings, a tiny portion of profits are given to the RaaS operator.

 

  • One-time License Fee: Users pay a one-time price, as the model's name suggests, with no profit sharing. Affiliates then have continuous access.

 

  • Pure Profit Sharing: Upon the acquisition of the license, profits are split among users and operators according to predetermined percentages.

 

You should start creating a strategy for defense after you are aware of the various business models and how RaaS operates.


 

Who employs RaaS?

 

Some RaaS vendors are rather selective in how they sell their software. They could seek highly competent clients who would go after big objectives since it will help promote their service. Other conditions might apply, such as the need to speak a specific language or the capacity to begin utilizing the service and earning money from ransomware right away.

 

Others will offer their services to just about anyone as long as the client can make a payment or generate income through ransoms. For RaaS providers, this poses a little risk because some clients may unavoidably be quite inexperienced and be discovered.

 

Many RaaS providers have been increasingly selective in recent years regarding the sectors they let their clients target. For instance, they can prohibit assaults on vital infrastructure or healthcare facilities since such assaults could harm a person's health or possibly result in their demise. Extreme events like this bring unwarranted attention to the RaaS industry, and RaaS providers can feel morally conflicted about affecting someone's physical condition (as opposed to their bank account).

 

Also Read |  Top 10 Anti-Phishing Tools in the Market


 

Examples of RaaS:

 

  1. DarkSide: 

 

A RaaS operation known as DarkSide is connected to an eCrime organization that CrowdStrike has identified as CARBON SPIDER. DarkSide hackers target business systems with unpatched VMware ESXi hypervisors or steal vCenter credentials. They formerly targeted Windows computers but have lately extended to Linux. 

 

The FBI made a public announcement on May 10 that the Colonial Pipeline incident featured the DarkSide malware. Colonial Pipeline allegedly paid over $5 million USD to a DarkSide affiliate after having 100GB of data stolen from their network, according to later reports.


 

  1. Dharma: 

 

Attacks using the Dharma ransomware have been connected to an Iranian threat organization with financial motivations. Since 2016, this RaaS has been accessible on the dark web and has mostly been linked to RDP assaults. Attackers typically seek 1–5 bitcoins from their victims, who work in a variety of different sectors. Dharma is not centralized.

 

Numerous sources produce Dharma variations, and in the majority of cases when CrowdStrike was able to identify Dharma, sample files matched very exactly in every case. The only things that differed were the encryption keys, the email addresses for the contacts, and a few minor elements that could be altered via a RaaS portal. 

 

Threat hunters are unable to learn anything about the individuals responsible for a Dharma assault or their methods of operation from an occurrence since Dharma attacks are essentially identical.

 

Also Read | What is Malware? What are the signs of Malware Infection?


The image depicts different steps involved in the functioning of a RaaS Model

Mechanism of RaaS Model


 

Is Ransomware as a Service Legal?

 

An unlawful industry created by organized crime gangs is ransomware as a service. Participation in any RaaS ransomware campaign is prohibited. This involves purchasing RaaS kits on the dark web with the intention of infiltrating networks, damaging targets, or sending unwelcome programs to them, stealing, encrypting, and downloading system data and files, and extorting money from people.

 

It is crucial to remember that ransomware must be used with the intent to harm a victim in order to qualify as a crime. When recruiting affiliates, ransomware authors typically use adverts with the purpose to damage and profiting from it. Ransomware behavior, however, may be justified by certain players as merely security audits, and the decryptor is a product the "consumer" has to purchase.

 

The FBI investigates and prosecutes the majority of ransomware instances under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

 

Also Read | Top 10 Network Monitoring Platforms in 2022


 

Prevention of Raas Attacks:

 

Technology advancements have made it simpler for affiliates and code developers to breach systems and demand hefty ransom payments from businesses. Since 2019, there has been a 33 percent surge in ransomware attacks, with affiliates receiving up to 80% of each payment. 

 

These four essential guidelines for avoiding RaaS assaults can help you from joining these statistics.

 

  1. Regular data backups: 

 

A RaaS attack often focuses on confidential and sensitive data. Hackers infiltrate your systems or data and then demand a ransom in exchange for them not stealing or releasing it. RaaS attackers won't have as much power if you back up your data as they would if you had it all to yourself. As a precaution against RaaS, backup your data on external hard drives rather than exclusively relying on cloud storage.


 

  1. Maintain Software Updates: 

 

Maintaining the most recent version of your system software is another effective approach to thwart RaaS assaults. This includes the antivirus protection you have. 

 

Cybercriminals are eager to take advantage of systems running outdated versions since they represent a clear weakness. Software upgrades also improve network security by fixing bugs and repairing security holes. Maintain a strict patching schedule as well to safeguard against both known vulnerabilities and any future RaaS technologies.

 

Also Read | Ways to Avoid Phishing


 

  1. Ongoing Training for Staff: 

 

RaaS attackers frequently deceive users by sending phishing emails with harmful links and attachments. Personnel should already be aware to avoid any message from an unknown source or one that causes suspicion. 

 

To prevent needless harm, teach users how to recognize, quarantine, and report harmful communications. Conduct frequent, up-to-date training on RaaS techniques including social engineering and phishing.


 

  1.  Early Identification & Protection: 

 

You should deploy endpoint protection and threat detection-focused technologies in addition to keeping your cybersecurity software updated. Your defenses should be continuously active around-the-clock in order to always be protected from RaaS. 

 

There are various apps to take into account that use a range of clever technologies to find and get rid of ransomware threats. For instance, DatAlert alerts businesses to possible dangers and offers insights about erratic behavior and occurrences across several data sources.

 

Also Read | Ways to Protect yourself from SQL Injection


 

Conclusion:

 

The risk from ransomware is increasing. Attacks using ransomware are on the rise, and the cost of making these payments is rising quickly. Ransomware developers are increasingly embracing the RaaS revenue model, as seen by the rise in the number of ransomware variants that do. 

 

With expanded RaaS support, external affiliates have more options to deploy ransomware, thereby escalating the dangerous environment for enterprises. Overall, ransomware will continue to be a concern for the foreseeable future, thus it is critical that businesses take precautions to safeguard themselves.

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