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Royal Ransomware: ACSC sounds alarm on latest threat

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The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has uncovered a new ransomware variant called Royal, which is being used by cybercriminals to conduct targeted attacks against multiple sectors and organisations worldwide, including in Australia. The ACSC is providing this information to help assess the risk and take appropriate action to protect their systems and networks.

New Ransomware Variant Royal: A Growing Threat to Global Organisations

The ACSC has found that once cybercriminals gain access to a victim’s environment, they use this ransomware to encrypt sensitive files and extort a ransom in exchange for restoring access to them.

Understanding the Methods of Royal Ransomware: What can it do?

  • Take advantage of common/known security weaknesses or misconfigurations
  • Masking malicious downloads as legitimate software on reputable download sites
  • Using online advertising (such as Google Ads) to blend in with regular ad traffic
  • Utilising contact forms on an organisation’s website to distribute phishing links
  • Stealing data and transferring it to public cloud file-sharing services
  • Disabling security services on the infected system using tools like PCHunter, PowerTool, and Process Hacker
  • Installing legitimate remote management tools for persistence and initial payloads using Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) and PowerShell
  • Executing the ransomware payload on other systems in the network using PsExec
  • Avoiding encrypting certain file types like .dll, .bat, .royal, or .exe
  • Erasing all system backups stored in volume shadow copies

Double Extortion: The New Tactic of Royal Ransomware

The cybercriminals behind Royal are known to use a technique called “double extortion” by uploading samples of stolen victim data obtained through the attack and threatening to sell and/or release additional information if their ransom demands are not met.

This adds another layer of pressure on victims who are already dealing with the disruption caused by the encryption.

Royal Ransomware: From Education Institutes to Critical Infrastructure

The ACSC has reported an increase in domestic and global Royal activity in 2022 and use of Royal ransomware has continued into 2023. This includes the targeting of Australian critical infrastructure, notably including an educational institute in 2022.

As of 10 January 2023, Royal ransomware threat actors claimed to have compromised at least 70 organisations worldwide.

Callback Phishing: The Trick of Royal Ransomware

Threat actors deploying Royal ransomware notably use a technique called callback phishing, which involves tricking victims into acting, such as returning a phone call or opening an email attachment.

 When the victims call the number from the phishing message, the threat actor uses social engineering techniques to persuade the victim to install their remote access software, a malicious downloader that poses as legitimate applications to gain initial access into the victim organisation.

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji

Ahmed Khanji is the CEO of Gridware, a leading cybersecurity consultancy based in Sydney, Australia. An emerging thought leader in cybersecurity, Ahmed is an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and regularly contributes to cybersecurity conversations in Australia. As well as his extensive background as a security advisor to large Australian Enterprises, he is a regular keynote speaker and guest lecturer on offensive cybersecurity topics and blockchain.

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