New ransomware rips and runs

Shutterstock image (by Sergey Nivens): Security concept, lock on a digital screen.

A new ransomware variant covertly deletes hijacked files while leading the victim to believe they can still be recovered, according to cybersecurity researchers.

Discovered by threat intelligence firm Cisco Talos, the Ranscam variant relies on simple intimidation rather than complexity.

In a July 11 post, Cisco Talos threat researchers Edmund Brumaghin and Warren Mercer said Ranscam does not encrypt data and then decrypt it when the hijacker's bitcoin ransom has been paid. Instead, it cuts to the chase -- the payoff.

Unlike comparatively courteous crypto-ransomware that decrypts data and gives it back to the user after the ransom has been paid, the researchers said Ranscam locks down a computer and threatens victims with complete data and file deletion at every unverified payment click.

The attack has no recovery or decryption functionalities.

Ultimately, the researchers said, any data decryption promises made by the hijacker are lies because the program simply deletes data almost from the beginning.

"The author is simply relying on smoke and mirrors in an attempt to convince victims that their files can be recovered in hopes that they will choose to pay the ransom," the blog post states.

Brumaghin and Mercer said the lack of encryption/decryption capabilities suggests that cyber thieves have stripped down the malware to make a quick buck with little trouble. It also suggests that the ransomware is making its way down the cybercriminal food chain to its lowest levels.

"There is no longer honor amongst thieves," the researchers wrote.

However, there is apparently decent customer service.

For their research on the malware, Brumaghin and Mercer said they posed as a confused victim. They emailed a cyber thief with questions about how to use bitcoin payments to unlock their hijacked computer. The thief responded with detailed, step-by-step instructions and the helpful recommendation that they make the payment before the bank closed the following day.

The thief, however, stopped responding when the researchers followed up with more questions.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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