A Look Inside the Highly Profitable Sodinokibi Ransomware Business


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A Look Inside the Highly Profitable Sodinokibi Ransomware Business

DigTec - Malware

Relatively new on the ransomware scene, Sodinokibi ransomware business has already made impressive profits for its administrators and affiliates, some victims paying as much as $240,000, while a network infection netted $150,000 on average.

These figures are not surprising when you look at the malware’s recent activity. On August 16, Sodinokibi hit 22 local administrations in Texas and demanded a collective ransom of $2.5 million. It compromised multiple MSPs (managed service providers) spreading the malware to their customers.

The latest victim is another MSP that offers data backup service to dental practices. The ransom, in this case, is allegedly $5,000 per client; hundreds were impacted.

Setting the rules of the game

Since its discovery in April, Sodinokibi (a.k.a. REvil) has become prolific and quickly gained a reputation among cybercriminals in the ransomware business and security researchers.

In mid-May, a Sodinokibi advertiser using the forum name UNKN deposited over $100,000 on underground forums to show that they meant serious business.

Advertisements for the new file-encrypting malware started in early July on at least two forums. UNKN said that they were looking to expand their activity and that it was a private operation with “limited number of seats” available for experienced individuals.

UNKN offered affiliates 60% of the payments at the beginning and a 10% increase after the first three transactions. The actor also made it clear that they would not be working with English-speaking affiliates as part of this private program.

Ransom payments flooding in

The name of the ransomware is not disclosed in the forum posts but the researcher told us that he saw screenshots of the malware’s administrative panel showing bot IDs that look the same as those for Sodinokibi.

Another capture from Damian makes it clear that this particular ransomware program is highly profitable with some victims paying as little as .4 bitcoins (~$4,000) while others shelling out 26 bitcoins or approximately $240,000 at the moment of the conversion.

For those affiliates who can infect an entire network, the REvil/Sodinokibi developers allow a victim to purchase a decryption tool for the entire fleet of affected computers. According to the forum post shared with BleepingComputer, these network-wide decryptors have an average cost of $150,000.

With the revenue flooding in, other malware distributors are trying to gain access to the program, but UNKN has stated yesterday that there are no available openings for affiliates at this time.

Serious players in the game

When they started advertising, the threat actor already had the support of respected members of the underground ransomware community.

Yelisey Boguslavskiy, director of security research at Advanced Intelligence (AdvIntel), told BleepingComputer that UNKN registered an account on one cybercriminal forum on July 4 and that it is clear that they had been active outside this community.

Two high-profile community members specializing in ransomware attacks endorsed UNKN and also revealed that they had joined the affiliate program, indicating that they already knew who they were dealing with.

Boguslavskiy told us that positive feedback for a new ransomware strain is very uncommon on that forum. The two members are typically very critical with newcomers.

“For instance, when “JSWorm” and “NEMTY” were introduced, the community reacted with extreme skepticism and aggression.”

A discussion thread on Sodinokibi started in June, with most forum members showing skepticism about the new ransomware and its legitimacy. The thread was deleted soon after UNKN presented the affiliation offer.

The GandCrab connection

Sodinokibi was spotted when researchers saw it deployed on Oracle WebLogic servers by exploiting a critical deserialization vulnerability. On the same systems infected with Sodinokibi, cybercriminals also installed GandCrab a few hours later.

At the end of April, GandCrab administrators announced that they would close shop within 20 days. And they kept their word.

The operators behind the Sodinokibi Ransomware started looking for affiliates to distribute their software soon after the GandCrab ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) shut down. Underground reactions towards the new product suggest that there may be a connection with the administrators or the affiliates of the now-defunct GandCrab operation.

Some malware analysts pointed to code-level similarities between the two ransomware strains, although plenty of differences exist between the two.

However, one similarity is that administrators of both malware families would not carry business in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) area. This includes Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

These breadcrumbs along with the rapid ascension of the malware seem to suggest involvement from the GandCrab crew or its affiliates. Already having connections on private forums, it allowed them to quickly promote Sodinokibi and be selective about their partners.

There is no clear, undeniable evidence that Sodinokibi is run by the same individuals that administered GandCrab, but they obviously know the ransomware game and are into the money-making business.